Quite Continental Charm School: Day 18 – Updo and Done

23/09/2013 § 3 Comments

The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life

QC Charm School: Updo and Done“Hmmmmm, is this bow too much or just enough??”
Photo by Peter Stackpole for Life Magazine.

Editor’s Note: I’m very pleased to introduce today’s guest speaker!  Please meet Erica Whelan, the exceptionally talented hair and makeup artist whose work can be seen everywhere from the runways of New York Fashion Week to the glossy pages of your favorite editorials to some of the most fabulous private clients.  Indeed, whenever we catch up, she’s always got several new stories and numerous beauty tricks up her sleeve.  She’s my own secret weapon!

If you are not yet familiar with Erica, it is my pleasure to introduce you.  For her lesson, I requested she share a simple updo, something everyone should have in their styling arsenal.  Good for everything from board meetings to brunch to broadway show, think of this classic chignon as a style soldier of fortune, able to handle any sort of occasion you might throw at it.  You might also recognize the guinea pig in the chair…I knew all this hair was good for something.

Without any further ado, Erica’s tip for a charmed life.
Photos by the equally talented Amelia Tubb.

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QC Charm School: Updo and Done

You will need a teasing comb, boar bristle brush, an elastic ponytail holder, bobby pins, hair pins, texturizer spray and hairspray. Depending on your hair type you may also need a flat iron and smoothing crème.

QC Charm School: Updo and Done QC Charm School: Updo and Done

1) Hair can be clean or slightly dirty (“second day hair”). Get volume in the top section of hair by spraying a dry texturizer spray like Oribe or dry shampoo like Klorane. This will instantly add volume to dry hair. Hold hair straight up and away from head then spray at the root. Wait a few seconds then massage product into your roots.  If your hair is curly, you should use a flat iron to straighten and add shine to your hair.

QC Charm School: Updo and Done

2) Brush hair into a low ponytail. I usually position my ponytail at the occipital bone, which is the bone you can feel at the back of your head. I like to spray my brush with hairspray before I brush the hair into a low ponytail — this trick will help tame flyaways. Your ponytail should be smooth. You can use a dime-sized dollop of smoothing crème and run over your ponytail to remove any frizziness. You can style the front of your hair to your liking. Ex: a few pieces of hair framing your face, a middle or side part, or backcomb the top section for volume — your choice.

QC Charm School: Updo and Done

3) Once your hair is in a low ponytail, slide the ponytail holder about an inch down. This will give you enough room to split the hair down the center.

QC Charm School: Updo and Done QC Charm School: Updo and Done

4) Split hair down the center then flip the ponytail up. Starting with the ponytail end, begin feeding it through the split. Grab the ponytail with your fingers from underneath and pull it through the split.

QC Charm School: Updo and Done

5) Give the ponytail a gentle tug so it tightens back up.

QC Charm School: Updo and Done QC Charm School: Updo and Done(Editor’s note: OBVIOUSLY THIS IS MY FAVORITE PICTURE.)

6) Use a comb to tease the ponytail. This will create the base for your bun. Tease as much or as little as you like. Remember, the more you tease the bigger the bun. Once you’re done teasing, smooth the underside of the ponytail with your boar bristle brush. This is the side that will be visible so it needs to be smooth.

QC Charm School: Updo and Done QC Charm School: Updo and Done QC Charm School: Updo and Done

7) Put the back of your hand on the inside of the ponytail (the teased part of the ponytail) about mid-length. Wrap the ponytail around your hand and tuck the tail into the hole you created when you split your hair down the center in Step 4. Keep tucking until you form a bun.

QC Charm School: Updo and Done QC Charm School: Updo and Done

8) Using bobby pins (medium size for short to medium hair or large size for medium to long hair) secure the bun. I like to use two bobby pins at the top where we tucked the tail into place. Then gently pull apart the bun to make it fuller. Then continue to pin into place.

QC Charm School: Updo and Done QC Charm School: Updo and Done QC Charm School: Updo and Done

9) My secret weapon to keeping hair in place is to use a hairnet. Hairnets come in different colors so you can find one that matches your hair color and the mesh is so fine that no one will be able to detect it up close or in photos. Cover bun with hairnet then pin into place using hair pins. Make sure to grab the hair and then the net when you pin. FYI – A hair pin is a u-shaped pin that is lighter than a bobby pin. Bobby pins secure a hairstyle into place where as a hair pin keeps the hair in place once the style has been secured.

QC Charm School: Updo and Done

10) Final step – spray with hairspray to keep in place and tame any flyaways.  All done!

The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life

Quite Continental Charm School: Day 17 – Re-read Your Classics

17/05/2013 § 1 Comment

The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life

Yes, Charm School marches on!
Because, really, why limit ourselves to one month a year?

Quite Continental Charm School: Day 17 -- Re-read Your ClassicsMarilyn Monroe by Edward Clark for Life Magazine, 1950

Day 17: Re-read Your Classics
While I can understand the allure of e-readers, and experience a slight tinge of device-envy when I see people pull them out on planes or the subway, I will probably always prefer the concreteness of books. Owing to my move cross-country a few years ago, my library today is definitely not as large as it would have been, had I not chosen to travel light. And on the whole, I don’t regret making that decision, but I do have moments where I remember a favorite book and simultaneously realize that I have no idea where it might be. I’m going to prefer to assume that they’re all buried at my parents’ home somewhere, but it is quite possible that they’re gone forever.

Today, I want you to meander over to your bookshelf and revisit some of your old friends. Reread those important, era-defining books that you held in your hand when you were 7 or 17 or 27. I guarantee two things: first, you’ll be instantly transported back to that point in your life. You’ll remember who gave you the book, or why you picked it up in the first place. You’ll remember how it affected you. But second, and perhaps more importantly, you’ll have the luxury of hindsight to reflect on how you’ve changed since your initial reading. You’ll notice new things you might have missed the first time around. Other things will resonate differently.

It is in repeat readings that I discover the living quality of books. I recently revisited To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, after viewing a documentary on the author’s life. As I read, I realized that I really half-assed my way through the book in middle school. Had I left it on the shelf, checked off as “read,” I would have missed the opportunity to more fully appreciate Lee’s work as an adult. Similarly, I frequently re-read The Lover by Marguerite Duras – perhaps partially because of the slimness of the tome, but also because it is such a sparse, beautiful and exotic work. I love the way my mind fills in all that is left unsaid, and the way it makes me feel. It’s different every single time.

What books do you return to?

The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life

Quite Continental Charm School: Day 16 – On Table Manners: Purse Placement

26/03/2013 § 2 Comments

The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life

QC Charm School: Table Manners: Purse PlacementGrace Kelly admires her Best Actress Oscar for “Country Girl,” 1955.
Photo by George Silk for Life Magazine.

Day 16: On Table Manners: Purse Placement
For most people, carrying some sort of bag is a daily occurrence.  My daytime purses grew exponentially in size when I made the transition from Los Angeles to New York, owing to the fact that I lost the storage capabilities of the backseat when I traded my car for a Metrocard.  But today, we aren’t talking about the study tote you carry all over town.  Instead, I’d like for you to turn your attention to formal occasions, and the teeny tiny evening bag.

Usually bejeweled with sparkles or rhinestones or feathers, evening bags are just about the most useless member of the purse family.  Relegated to the back of the closet until it’s time for a formal affair, there isn’t much that’s going to fit inside them, aside from your phone and maybe a tube of lipstick.  Most frequently they are some sort of pouch or fold-over flap clutch — or you could go all Upper East Sidey and carry a cupcake or a rubber ducky by Judith Leiber (please note: you do so at your own risk of judgment) — and usually they are without any kind of strap.  So where’s a girl to put her purse when it’s time to eat?

When seated at a formal event and not using your purse, the general rule is that it should be placed in your lap beneath your napkin, or behind the small of your back in your chair.  It isn’t to rest on the table or hang on the back of the chair (tacky), nor is it to touch the ground (tacky, dirty, AND bad luck).    Whenever you’re in doubt, just remember this photograph of Grace Kelly.  The dinner table is for your Oscar, not your purse.

The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life

Quite Continental Charm School: Day 15 – Brew Your Own Bitters

13/03/2013 § Leave a comment

The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life

QC Charm School: DIY BittersGreta Garbo, Beatrice Lillie and patrons at a New York City speakeasy, 1933.
Photo by Margaret Bourke-White for Life Magazine.

Editor’s Note: I’m very pleased to introduce today’s guest speaker!  Please meet Lani Zervas, the exceedingly fabulous and fashionable lady behind the blog Mon Petit Chou Chou.  While she’s a Boston native, I had the pleasure of meeting Lani in New York two years ago and we’ve been fast friends ever since.  She’s been such an amazing partner in crime at Brimfield and New York Fashion Week, that I am more than a little upset with myself that it has taken me this long to feature her brilliance!  Her charming blog encompasses her interests in fashion, interior design, art, cooking, two very lovely dogs and all things Boston — but wait, there’s more!  She’s also getting ready to be the most fabulous mommy the world has ever seen!  I’m sure that you will find her to be as lovely and as funny as I do.  If you are not yet familiar with Lani or Mon Petit Chou Chou, it is my pleasure to introduce you.

Without any further ado, Lani’s tip for a charmed life.

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Day 15: Brew Your Own Bitters
A proper lady knows when she has had too much, and likewise should know how to speed the road there when the occasion calls for it, with an arsenal of tried and true recipes to mix it up, at the bar and in life.

To that end, embrace your inner mixologist and commit to memory the recipes for some basic tipplers. I would suggest you have the classic Manhattan, Aviation, Martini, and Daiquiri in your repertoire and ready for the mixing at your home bar. Practice makes perfect and you’ll find your friends willing participants in your ‘research’ for cocktail perfection. When you have mastered these basics, time to take on more advanced studies, in home brewed simple syrups and bitters.

Simple syrup is, as the name would lead you to believe. painfully simple to make. It is a one to one ratio of sugar, water, and what ever you decide to steep. I personally like ginger, rosemary, cinnamon, and a turbinado, or raw, sugar syrup. These also make easy and chic gifts, appreciated by all hosts, and often immediately employed at social get-togethers (recipes and more on simple syrup here). Ahh, but the bitters, now these are more involved, take a bit more time, and are worth every ounce of effort. Not sure what bitters are? Or how they fit into the equation?

“People say bitters are the salt and pepper of the bar, but really, they’re like the spice rack,” (per Brad Thomas Parsons, author of Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-all).

QC Charm School: DIY Bitters

Bitters are a type of infused high-proof alcohol, with flavors derived from plants, barks and herbs. Originally brewed for medicinal purposes they evolved into flavorful additions to cocktails, via the classic brands Peychauds and Angostura, both of which rely heavily on gentian (a bitter herb for flavoring). You don’t need these store bought staples though, not when you can wow people with your home brewed batches.

It will take some initial effort to gather the more exotic ingredients — if you count ordering from Amazon effort — but once your pantry is stocked, you will have more than enough to make batch after batch of the home brew. The recipe below for Cranberry Anise bitters from Food & Wine is a personal favourite, and makes use of gentian root, an ingredient that usually repeats in all bitters recipes and which is a good foundation to start experimenting with your own creations.

QC Charm School: DIY Bitters

Cranberry Anise Bitters

2 cups high-proof vodka (like Stolichnaya Blue 100 Proof)
1 1/2 cups fresh or thawed frozen cranberries, each one pierced with a toothpick
1 cup dried cranberries
2 tablespoons chopped crystallized ginger
2 star anise pods
One 3-inch cinnamon stick
One 1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 teaspoon gentian root
1/2 teaspoon white peppercorns
2 tablespoons simple syrup
  1. In a 1-quart glass jar, combine all of the ingredients except the syrup. Cover and shake well. Let stand in a cool, dark place for 2 weeks, shaking the jar daily.
  2. Strain the infused alcohol into a clean 1-quart glass jar through a cheesecloth-lined funnel. Squeeze any infused alcohol from the cheesecloth into the jar; reserve the solids. Strain the infused alcohol again through new cheesecloth into another clean jar to remove any remaining sediment. Cover the jar and set aside for 1 week.
  3. Meanwhile, transfer the solids to a small saucepan. Add 1 cup of water and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes; let cool completely. Pour the liquid and solids into a clean 1-quart glass jar. Cover and let stand at room temperature for 1 week, shaking the jar once daily.
  4. Strain the water mixture through a cheesecloth-lined funnel set over a clean 1-quart glass jar; discard the solids. If necessary, strain again to remove any remaining sediment. Add the infused alcohol and the syrup. Cover and let stand at room temperature for 3 days. Pour the bitters through a cheesecloth-lined funnel or strainer and transfer to glass dasher bottles. Cover and keep in a cool, dark place.
Bitters can be stored at room temperature indefinitely. For best flavor, use within 1 year.
QC Charm School: DIY Bitters QC Charm School: DIY Bitters QC Charm School: DIY Bitters QC Charm School: DIY Bitters QC Charm School: DIY Bitters
In short, stir up high proof vodka, cranberry’s, anise, gentian, along with cinnamon sticks, anise and white peppercorns.  Allow to sit in a cool dark space for a few weeks. Then strain, boil, strain again, add simple syrup, and allow to sit some more. Finally, once everything has melded to perfection in this mysterious cool dark space, you have a rich, deep, aromatic elixir to bottle, and share (or hoard, I won’t tell).
I often keep a bottle in my purse — one never knows when cocktails will be needed and best to be prepared! As every proper lady and fledgling mixologist should be.

For more ideas and recipes, check out the full Food and Wine article here, and the aforementioned bible on bitters, Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-all.

Sante!

By Lani Zervas, of Mon Petit Chou Chou.

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The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life

Quite Continental Charm School: Day 14 – Know Your Worth

11/03/2013 § 5 Comments

The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life

QC Charm School: Know Your Worth

Harry Winston’s rough stone expert Daniel Frey examines a 426-carat diamond called “The Unnamed,” in 1956.  At the time, the stone was the ninth largest on record and at a price of $8.4 million dollars, the largest diamond sale to date.  The stone eventually went on to become the Niarchos Diamond.  You can read about the stone and Harry Winston’s plans to cut and sell the diamond here.  Photograph by Ralph Morse for Life Magazine.

“We cannot think of being acceptable to others
until we have first proven acceptable to ourselves.”
-Malcolm X

Day 14: Know Your Worth
Recently, in the context of witty cocktail banter and getting-to-know-yous, I was asked to name my biggest failure. While the answer that bounded forth – not being born an heiress – was technically true (apologies to Mom and Dad), the question stayed with me in the days after and I noticed that I was searching my soul for a deeper answer. As I sorted through all of my shoulda, coulda, wouldas, I realized that my biggest shortcoming was not a test I failed or a school I didn’t get into or a bad investment choice. Rather, in my heart of hearts, what I considered to be my biggest failure was something I had repeatedly done to myself within the context of my interpersonal relationships.

For some people, it seems practically second nature for them to identify their needs and then ask for them to be fulfilled. They ask their managers for a raise because they deserve more pay for their contributions at work. They ask their partners for better communication. They ask their friends for help through a difficult time. These are people I tend to envy because historically, it’s proven difficult at times for me to identify, let alone voice, the things I need.

This lead to spending a considerable amount of time in relationships, both personal and professional, where I wasn’t receiving what I needed, but I was hesitant to speak up. But why? Why did I accept something that was unacceptable, when I knew deep down that I needed more? Why did I always try to love – or work – myself through the subpar environment, hoping that fate would finally deal me a more favorable card? And while the relationships I speak of in this context were all very different, each with different circumstances and players, and occurred at different stages of my life, I don’t think that it was simply a random result of bad luck. While I can’t explain to you why others treated me the way they did, I definitely believe one of the reasons I kept sticking around has to do with what I thought I deserved.

Self-worth can be a tricky thing to monitor. It’s not like there’s an index that you can check every morning to see how it happens to be fluctuating or a bank account you can easily transfer funds into when you’re a bit low. Instead, I find my thoughts about my own value are most frequently triggered by negative experiences or conditions, and it is my response (or lack thereof) that has a direct impact on my internal barometer.  Taking ownership of my self-worth, instead of appraising myself in relation to how others treat me, has been a remarkably empowering process.

Today, I want us to work on valuing ourselves. Everyone deserves all the happiness and love and friendship and success that their hearts can hold and that you shouldn’t accept anything less.  No matter what you might have experienced in the past, you are worth someone’s very best today. But also remember that this probably won’t happen if you just sit there and wish for it. So when that internal voice points out that your needs aren’t being met in a personal (or professional) relationship, you owe it to yourself to honor that feeling and to clearly ask for what you need, as difficult as that may be. Speak plainly and calmly and choose a time to broach the subject when you feel your audience is receptive. Avoid blaming; instead, talk about how you feel now and how you would like to feel in the future.

There is a very good chance that your partner/father/coworker/friend has no idea what you’re missing, and would do whatever they could to make sure you received it – but if you don’t give them that chance to meet you halfway, they very likely won’t. I’m definitely guilty of this. I can’t tell you why in the past I thought that my partners should intuit what I wanted and needed out of a relationship, but I can tell you that when they didn’t read my mind (surprise, surprise) I would get frustrated, and that frustration would silently fester until it ripened into resentment — a stealthy silent killer of intimacy.

Consequently, you’ve got to be patient, but honest. Granted, it takes time to change behavior, but if after you’ve clearly communicated your needs you find the other party unwilling – or perhaps unable – to rise to the occasion, you have to admit that to yourself and remember that you deserve exactly as much success, love and support as you need.  Just because you aren’t currently being fulfilled, doesn’t mean it’s your fault or what you deserve.  There is someone somewhere who will happily provide exactly what you want and need, and you’ve got to value yourself enough to make yourself available. Deciding to stick around, unsatisfied, means that you are closing yourself off from finding that happiness and I’m definitely hard pressed to think of anything less charming than that.

The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life

Quite Continental Charm School: Day 13 – Watch Screwball Comedies

23/02/2013 § Leave a comment

The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life

QC Charm School: Watch Screwball ComediesKatharine Hepburn, Cary Grant and Baby in Bringing Up Baby, 1938.

Editor’s Note: I’m very excited to introduce today’s guest speaker!  Please meet Michele, the brilliant writer behind the blog Tales of a Madcap Heiress, a witty compendium of silver screen stars, arty pursuits, and her experiences living in New York City.  I’m sure as soon as you lay eyes on Michele’s blog you’ll understand how pleased I was to discover it.  While I like to think that my classic film smarts are pretty good, I am constantly bowled over (and educated!) by this lady’s encyclopedic film knowledge and I couldn’t have been happier when she suggested today’s topic…and then she topped herself by sending me the picture you see above!  If you are not yet familiar with Michele or Tales of a Madcap Heiress, it is my pleasure to introduce you.

Without any further ado, Michele’s tip for a charmed life.

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Day 13: Watch Screwball Comedies
I’ve often said that if life were a movie, I would want to live in a screwball comedy. The reason? In a screwball comedy you can be a madcap heiress who gets to wear lovely clothes, live in a huge Art Deco apartment, have a group of glamorous friends with whom you drink loads of cocktails and frequent nightclubs, and have crazy adventures with the likes of Cary Grant who ends up falling in love with you. Who wouldn’t want to live in that movie?

QC Charm School: Watch Screwball ComediesMyrna Loy and William Powell in The Thin Man, 1934.

For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the genre, there are a few general rules you should know to help differentiate a screwball comedy from other films:

  1. Though there have been attempts to label some modern films a screwball comedy, the term really refers to a genre of films made during the 1930s and early 40s.
  2. The film’s setting is urban (usually New York or Paris if it’s in Europe) with the closest thing to the countryside being a weekend home in Connecticut. If any scenes take place at the office it’s either a Wall Street firm/bank if you’re wealthy or a newsroom if you’re not (a lot of characters are journalists in these films).
  3. The story usually revolves around a courtship of sorts that begins with either a one-sided infatuation (My Man Godfrey) or a mutual loathing (The Awful Truth). There’s lots of yelling and even physical fights, which the women always win (Twentieth Century). In fact, the women in screwball comedies tend to always have the upper hand in the relationships (The Lady Eve). Yet, like in most films, love prevails in the end.
  4. The plots will include at least one of the following: a case of mistaken identity (Easy Living), the search for a missing person or thing (a leopard in the case of Bringing Up Baby), or somebody on the run (It Happened One Night). All of these serve as an excuse for the leads to go off on a crazy adventure during which they get into all sorts of trouble.
  5. The dialogue, besides being hilarious, is fast paced and clever (His Girl Friday is the gold standard by which all other films are judged). In fact, screwball comedy directors often relied on their smart scripts to help skirt around the rigid rules of the production code (case in point: screwball comedies that openly talk about divorce).
  6. Class plays a big part in screwball comedies with the upper class usually shown to be inferior to the working class (My Man Godfrey). If the storyline involves an heiress (there are quite a few in these films) she will often reject her privileged background (It Happened One Night). As for the servants and staff who populate the stories, they are routinely shown to be wiser than their employers.

It should be noted that within the screwball genre there is a sub-genre that can be called the screwball mystery (The Thin Man, The Ex-Mrs. Bradford). These are just as funny as your standard screwball comedy but with murder thrown in. Basically, there’s something for everyone!

Screwball comedies also give you a chance to see some of the greatest stars of the silver screen acting silly and showing off their comic timing. The list includes Gary Cooper, Henry Fonda, Joel McCrea, William Powell, Jean Arthur (my favourite screwball leading lady), Claudette Colbert, Irene Dunne, and Carole Lombard. And then there is Cary Grant who probably portrayed the screwball leading man better than anyone. And supporting all of them were some of the best character actors of the day including the great Franklin Pangborn, Edward Everett Horton, and Robert Greig.

Now that you know about screwball comedies, which ones should you watch? Below is a list of my personal top ten, all of which are available on DVD and are a good representation of the best of the genre.

  1. The Awful Truth (1937)
  2. Ball of Fire (1941)
  3. Bringing Up Baby (1938)
  4. Easy Living (1937)
  5. His Girl Friday (1940)
  6. It Happened One Night (1934)
  7. Midnight (1939)
  8. My Favorite Wife (1940)
  9. My Man Godfrey (1936)
  10. The Thin Man (1934)

So mix up some martinis, fire up the DVD player, and prepare to laugh yourself silly. And don’t be surprised if afterwards you too want to live in a screwball comedy.

by Michele, of Tales of a Madcap Heiress

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The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life

Quite Continental Charm School: Day 12 – Make the Ordinary Extraordinary

22/02/2013 § 3 Comments

The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life
QC Charm School: Make the Ordinary Extraordinary
Sophia Loren in Italy, 1961.
Taken by Alfred Eisenstaedt for Life Magazine.

Editor’s Note: Today’s guest speaker Jen McCabe is the writer, blogger and marketing genius extraordinaire behind Honey Kennedy, one of my absolute favorite places on the internet — I liken it to falling down a lovely rabbit hole of vintage-infused pretty, with tons to explore and love.  Aside from getting the lowdown on what’s going on in the Pacific Northwest and being introduced to some truly unique and gifted artists and designers hailing from the Portland area, Jen’s constantly discovers some of the most beautiful imagery and fashion collections I’ve ever seen — and did I mention that she’s completely lovely?  I am very happy to include Jen in this year’s Charm School.  If you are not yet familiar with Jen or Honey Kennedy, it is my pleasure to introduce you.

Without any further ado, Jen’s tip for a charmed life.

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Day 12: Make the Ordinary Extraordinary
To me, leading a charmed life doesn’t mean that everything is handed to you in a perfect package. I think life requires effort and thoughtfulness in order to make it truly charmed. I’ve lived life in a variety of income brackets through the years and I’ve always managed to find a way to feel like I’m treating myself to a bit of luxury. I’m glad that my husband and I have more security now, but a lot of my daily rituals haven’t changed much from when I would have to decide between bus fare and groceries. Even during times when I was barely scraping by, it was important to me to try to have rituals that made me feel like I was pampering myself and that mundane routines could be turned into something special. Here are a few simple things that I like to do to make my days more cheerful and charmed.

Put a little cardamom in your morning coffee.
I also enjoy maple syrup, cinnamon, honey, or nutmeg. It’s just something to look forward to that gets you out of bed in the morning. Or whatever your beverage of choice! Lemon or basil or cucumber in your water is always good, too. Lavender or earl grey in your hot chocolate, special imported honey in your tea, a little soda water in your juice, etc. Add your own fancy twist to a morning ritual.

Buy yourself some flowers.
Whether they are roses from a nice flower shop or hot pink grocery store carnations (LOVE—and they last such a long time!), flowers make your home a nicer place to be. The color and shapes of the petals are such an inspiring visual break. Taking a trip to buy yourself some flowers is always something wonderful to look forward to if it is once a month or every couple of weeks. I like to split a bouquet up in order to have pretty petals in each room. Waking up to a a bright bloom or two on your nightstand can make a hard day ahead seem a little less daunting.

Give yourself home beauty treatments.
Paying some mind to your fingers, toes and visage is lovely way to pamper yourself. It’s a fun respite on your own or with friends. Years ago, my friend Alice and I had both been laid off from our jobs one month. We lived in the same building and after rough days of job hunting we would rent movies from the library and try different natural beauty treatments on our faces while we studied Hollywood classics. We put banana peel pulp and oatmeal on our faces and made an apple cider vinegar tea infusion toner concoction that I still make today. So fun! Also, when I paint my nails I like to give my hands and toes the full treatment with coconut oil or shea butter cuticle massage.

Have an afternoon break—even while at work.
Whether you work from home or in a shop, restaurant or office, I think it’s important to have something you do for yourself midday. I feel like just taking the time to make a nice cup of my favorite tea and eating a square of dark chocolate does me a world of good. When working in office jobs or retail jobs in the past I would bring boxes of tea to work (I was notorious for having an entire beverage shelf with teapots and coffee presses) or sometimes I like to get out and run to a nearby cafe. Just close your eyes for a minute and just think about the tea you’re drinking. Everything else seems to dissipate—at least for that moment. Then get back to work feeling at least a little refreshed and more centered.

Light a scented candle.
I love to light a favorite fragrant candle before I crack open a book or magazine, slip into a hot bath or start a new writing project. Lighting a candle always seems to make me feel more focused and breathing in the lovely scent makes me feel charged and in the moment. I love Diptyque candles, but for me they are just an occasional splurge. Some other brands I enjoy are Voluspa, Tatine, Catbird and the Paddywax Library Collection. Truth be told, in leaner times I have been known to put a few drops of essential oil in a small pan of water and stick it on top of an old steam radiator in my house or apartment or simmer it on the stove before resting it on a trivet close by. Just make sure to watch it carefully while it’s on the stove!

by Jen McCabe, of Honey Kennedy

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The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life

Quite Continental Charm School: Day 11 – Craft Your Written Signature

21/02/2013 § 2 Comments

The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life

QC Charm School: Craft Your Written SignatureSophia Loren signing autographs in Italy, 1961.
Taken by Alfred Eisenstaedt for Life Magazine.

Editor’s Note: I’m very pleased to introduce our next guest speaker! Christine Mitchell is an exceptionally talented artist and the founder of the blog N’East Style, where she explores an aesthetic that is modern, yet rustic, with a deep admiration of all things New England, independent and handmade.  But aside from all the cool stuff Christine introduces me to on her blog, and her amazing talent as an artist, the main reason I asked her to participate is because she is one of the nicest people I have ever had the pleasure to meet.  I knew whatever she chose to share would be heartfelt and charming, just like she is, and I was right.  If you are not yet familiar with Christine or N’East Style, it is my pleasure to introduce you.

Without any further ado, Christine’s tip for a charmed life.

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Day 11: Craft Your Written Signature
I remember watching my mum doing bills and accounts on our dining room table. As a little girl I saw that as being the height of sophistication, almost more so than a fancy new bag or shoes. She would sit there with stacks of paperwork, a mug of piping hot Earl Grey tea, and a black ink pen handy for signing checks etc. And her signature was perfection. Loopy cursive with the ideal slant. Mature without being too feminine, it was exactly what I thought a real lady’s signature should be. I remember signing my own name over and over again on lined pads of paper as she helped me to develop my own John Hancock. It was like a coming of age ritual for me. So since I was about 12, I’ve signed my name exactly the same way. It’s a mix of traditional cursive and hurried scribble (the FedEx delivery guy actually complimented me on it the other day). We live in an age where you don’t have to use your John Hancock as much, most everything is online now. But I think perfecting a signature is a true sign of being an adult and it’s an important attribute to your identity. And to ensure that your signature doesn’t go to waste, be sure to keep good paper and an excellent pen on hand.

QC Charm School: Craft Your Written Signature

by Christine Mitchell, of N’East Style

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The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life

Quite Continental Charm School: Day 10 – Learn How to Drive

20/02/2013 § 1 Comment

The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life

QC Charm School: Learn to DriveView along US 40 in Mount Vernon Canyon, Colorado, 1942.  Image via LOC.

As a California native, today’s lesson didn’t immediately come to mind.  When you are a Los Angeles teenager, it is the countdown of all countdowns until you reach the fabled age of 15 1/2 and you are finally eligible to start down the illustrious path to getting your driver’s license.  I remember that storied day in the tenth grade when the oldest person in our grade level took off her morning classes to go to the DMV with her mother.  Her return that afternoon with that piece of paper we all wanted in our own wallets, was something like the opening scene from A Hard Day’s Night.  Okay, not really.  But almost.

Getting back to my original point, in my LA brain, it is my default assumption that all adults know how to drive, but when I landed on the East Coast, I realized that this wasn’t actually true.  I encountered plenty of people who had grown up on the efficiency of public transportation and hadn’t needed to learn how to parallel park (okay, yes, I will admit that I envied that part).  And while I currently enjoy partaking of said efficient transportation, there really is something about having the ability to jump into a car and head off into the great unknown…or to IKEA to buy a dresser, if you feel like it.  It is a ticket to adventure similar to my very first Charm School lesson, where I recommended getting your passport.  Adventures happen when you make yourself available for them.  Add a few skills to your arsenal and you never know where you might end up.

Sidenote: For those of you who already know how to drive an automatic, I’d challenge you to learn how to drive a manual transmission, which will come in handy when traveling internationally.  Or when racing cars.  Or when driving sweet old cars.  If you already know how to do that, I’m sure there’s something you don’t know how to drive.  Get out there and find it.

The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life

Quite Continental Charm School: Day 9 – Overhaul Your Wardrobe

19/02/2013 § 5 Comments

The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life

QC Charm School: Overhaul YourWardrobeJazz trumpeter Charlie Spivak and his extensive wardrobe, which contained
28 suits — even more than Duke Ellington!  Photo via LOC.

Editor’s Note: I’m very pleased to introduce our next guest speaker! Kelly is the skilled and stylish mind behind the personal style blog Alterations Needed.  I’m not sure how I first discovered Kelly, but I know it took only two nanoseconds before I realized I had met a sartorial soulmate.  This girl knows her way around ties, blazers and smoking slippers, and her innovative menswear-inspired style constantly inspires me.  Plus, she’s got curly hair and is from Los Angeles — do I really need to say anything more?

Inspiration aside, Alterations Needed is also a really great source for tips on fine tuning your wardrobe though skillful shopping, styling, tailoring and even “faking it.”  Moreover, if you’re petite, please meet your new style maven.  Completely user-friendly and fun to read, Kelly frequently documents her experiences before and after as she adjusts her various wardrobe purchases to perfectly fit her.  While I’m definitely not petite myself (hello, six feet!), I’ve found that Kelly’s pursuit of fit has caused me to cast a more critical eye on my own wardrobe.  If you are not yet familiar with Kelly and/or Alterations Needed, it is my pleasure to introduce you.

Without any further ado, Kelly’s tip for a charmed life.

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Day 9: Overhaul Your Wardrobe
Most people wear 20% of their closet, 80% of the time. Sometimes, the items that are hiding in the depths of the closet are old favorites that have lost their luster, never quite fit right to begin with, or just victims of the urge to shop without a real need for the item in the first place. Here are some tips to help take a fresh look at some of those items and breathe some new life into old favorites:

– Pull your favorite blazers from your wardrobe and have a tailor slim the sleeves for a snugger fit (just not so tight that you can’t bend your elbow). A nice fitted sleeve on a blazer is the quickest way for a modern and expensive look.

– While you’re at the tailor, also have them nip in your pants and trousers right at the back of your knee. This helps make your legs look longer and your pants look better fitted.

– If pant or skirt pockets ever bother you or add too much bulk to your hips, have them sewn shut and/or the pocket lining removed.

– Replace buttons that look dated, cheap, or overly trendy with new ones that are more your style. Scour flea markets for interesting vintage buttons that can really make an item of clothing special.

– Check blazers and coats for working breast pockets (ie they have a pocket lining) that are still sewn shut. Open them carefully with a seam ripper, and now you have a fun pocket in which to stuff such things as your sunglasses or a small colorful scarf.

– The wrong hangers can ruin your hard-earned wardrobe, so consider the needs and aesthetic of your wardrobe. Toss out wire hangers, as they can leave marks on your clothes and even rust if they get wet. Use thicker hangers for blazers and coats to maintain shoulder structure. If you’re especially narrow or broad shouldered than average, consider “petite” or “oversized” hangers to better fit your clothes. And never underestimate the power of a beautiful set of matching hangers to make you feel like you’re shopping in a boutique every time you get dressed (not the mention help curb the urge to over-shop).

by Kelly, of Alterations Needed.

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The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life

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