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
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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 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 6 – On Table Manners: Fork Technique

06/02/2013 § 1 Comment

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

QC Charm School: Table Manners

Editor’s Note: I’m very pleased to introduce our second guest speaker!  Lizzie Garrett Mettler is the exceedingly talented journalist, writer, and founder of the amazing blog Tomboy Style.  She’s also a dear friend who I love to pieces (and force to hang out with me whenever I am visiting Los Angeles).

It goes without saying that Tomboy Style is one of my absolute favorite places on the internet.  It has been a daily read for me for years and I always marvel/get jealous at the amazing things Lizzie discovers and discusses.  A compendium of all things adventurous, rebellious, fashionable and female, the blog is an expertly researched and magnificently cross-referenced guide to embracing your inner Françoise Hardy or Diane Keaton.  If you are not yet familiar with Lizzie and Tomboy Style, it is my pleasure to introduce you.

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

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Day 6: On Table Manners: Fork Technique – American vs. Continental
Over the years, I’ve toggled between the two ways to properly hold a dinner fork. Before this riveting topic puts you in a boredom-induced coma, let me first say that although there are technically two acceptable ways (according to traditional etiquette masters), I also feel that it’s a free God Damn country, so hold a fork in a way that makes you happy. So yes, there’s two styles, the Continental Style, which is favored in Europe, and the American Style, more prevalent stateside. According to Forbes Magazine, some say the American Style is actually traditional to pre-Napoleonic Europe, while others argue that the pioneering Americans created it to be different.

A quick refresher: the American Style, also known as “Switch and Switch”, demands the diner cut her food with the fork in the left hand and knife in the right, then puts down the knife and switches the fork to the right underhand position before taking a bite. The Continental Style allows the diner to cut her food in the same manner, but then can go directly from fork to mouth while still holding the knife in her right.

Emily Post, if I recall correctly, like other authorities of etiquette, note that both styles are equally acceptable. Growing up outside of Chicago, literally in the middle of America, I was watched like a hawk at the dinner table by my mother. If I didn’t put down my knife and switch hands, I was made aware. So naturally, once I was out of the house, I switched from the American Style to The Continental Style— if there’s a better way to rebel against your mother in your late teens, I’d love to hear about it.

Today, being the open-minded and well-grounded adult that I am (one who opines on minor differences in fork grips), I have to say there is a time and a place for both. If you’re looking to have a nice leisurely metered conversation while eating, go for the American Style. If you’re aiming to be less clumsy and more efficient, opt for The Continental Style—this is great, for example, if you’re eating a Croque Madame with a fork and knife, or if you like to gesture crazily like an old Italian grandmother while holding a steak knife in your hand and suffer no social (or legal) consequences. If you’re a “When in Rome” type, take on The American Style here and switch styles when traveling abroad, because, that would of course be so quite continental of you.

by Lizzie Garrett Mettler, of Tomboy Style

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

Quite Continental Charm School: Day 4 – Unexpected Compliments

05/02/2013 § 1 Comment

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

QC Charm School: Unexpected Compliments“Why sir, that is an amazing hat!”
“Funny, I was just about to say the same thing to you!”
William Jennings Bryant and friends. Via SDASM.

Editor’s Note: Today I am very pleased to introduce our first Charm School guest speaker for 2013!  Stephanie Madewell, the brilliant mind behind the exceptionally erudite blog even*cleveland, is with us this morning for her second Charm School appearance (you can find her 2012 entry here).

It is difficult to describe even*cleveland, which is probably why I love it so much.  Somewhat thematic in nature, Stephanie explores various topics (e.g., swans, works in miniature, Louisa May Alcott, winter) through the lenses of art, literature, photography, museum collections and fashion, connecting dots I didn’t know existed.  I find I am frequently staggered at the breadth of this lady’s knowledge about…well, pretty much everything!  Aside from that, she’s also a great source for information on cultured happenings in New York and usually posts awesome weekend tunes.  If you are not yet familiar with Stephanie and even*cleveland, it is my pleasure to introduce you.

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

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Day 4: Unexpected Compliments
I don’t know about you, but for me, nothing saves a crummy day like an unexpected compliment, especially the kind that comes totally out of the blue from a total stranger.

Since I’ve moved to New York, I’ve noticed a lot more random compliments zinging around. My theory is that they operate on some kind of karmic exchange, and that you have to pay them to get them. Funnily enough, I’ve found paying strangers compliments is almost as good as getting a compliment myself. Brightening someone’s day is pretty awesome.

Simone Weil said that “attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” Paying a compliment to a stranger may seem like a small thing, but telling someone you notice their kindness or even their cute shoes is a small but mighty action that adds a little light to the world. What’s more charming than that?

by Stephanie Madewell, of even*cleveland

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

Quite Continental Charm School: Day 2 – Forms of Address

02/02/2013 § 3 Comments

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

QC Charm School: Forms of AddressLittle girl mailing a letter, 1920. Via the Smithsonian.

It is not titles that honour men, but men that honour titles.
–Niccolò Machiavelli

Day 2: Forms of Address
In an age that is dominated by electronic communications and a very simplified @-addressing system, it can be a bit overwhelming to try to remember the etiquette that governs correctly addressing correspondence. However, when one has his or her forms of address well in hand, it is a small gesture that demonstrates the proper respect by acknowledging a person’s professional and personal statuses.  Moreover, it will add a certain amount of elan to the lovely and disappearing practice we now call “snail mail” — and when properly employed with electronic messages, notice how it imbues a thoroughly modern mode of communication with an air of nostalgia and refinery.

Sidenote: was your first thought that today’s tip endorses a outdated system that traditionally prioritizes men and their titles (e.g., “Mr. and Mrs. John Doe”)?  If so, you’ll be happy to know that as part of a shift in general convention that largely took place in the second half of the last century regarding the status of women within society, the accepted ways to address women has also changed over time, placing men and women on more equal footing…on the back of our envelopes.

  • Ms. is the default correct way to address a woman, unless she has already indicated that she prefers Mrs.  Miss is typically used for girls.
  • It is equally correct to refer to a married woman who uses her husband’s last name as both Mrs. Jane Doe and Mrs. John Doe — i.e., using her own first name.
  • When addressing a couple, you need not refer to the man first.  However, if one spouse “outranks” the other, the higher rank is listed first.  For example, all of the following are correct: Jane and John Doe, John and Jane Doe, Mr. and Mrs. John Doe, Ms. Jane Smith and Mr. John Doe (married, wife uses maiden name), Dr. Jane Doe and Mr. John Doe, Drs. Jane and John Doe/Drs. John and Jane Doe, The Doctors Doe
  • Do not use Mr. or Ms. when indicating a professional designation.  For example: Jane Doe, Esquire; John Doe, CPA.  However, designations are not used in conversation or socially.  In those cases, use Mr. or Ms.
  • The traditional way to address a widow is by using her husband’s first name, for example: Mrs. John Doe.  Of course you should use her own first name or Ms., if you are aware of her personal preference.
The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life

Quite Continental Charm School: Day 1 – Be Better

01/02/2013 § 7 Comments

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

QC Charm School: Be BetterUS Tennis champ Helen Wills Moody and one of her many trophies, 1945.

“And he writhed inside at what seemed the cruelty and unfairness of the demand. He had not yet learned that if you do one good deed your reward usually is to do another and harder and better one.”
–C.S. Lewis

Day 1: Be Better
Our premiere Charm School entry is a bit late, and I must apologize.  Life has a way of getting in the way of the best laid plans, and today was no exception, but I think that thought segueways nicely into the lesson I planned to discuss with you today: the concept of being better.

One month ago on the first of the year, per usual I found myself contemplating various New Year’s resolutions, specific changes and goals to focus on for the next 12 months.  When I took a step back, I had an epiphany.  Over the years, making discrete goals about how many miles I was going to run, or books I was going to read, had tended to set me up for disappointment.  Usually November hits and I start to fret over the fact that I haven’t “done enough” on my list of aspirational to-dos, that then culminates in a rather pitiful giving up and a concurrent rotten feeling — not the best way to start a new year.

So on 1 January, I tried something different — I decided to make only one resolution, but apply it universally.  Instead of fixating on quotas or things left undone, I embraced a theme: to do better in all things.  Elegant in its simplicity but difficult to achieve, it takes constant effort to be better — and it’s a bar that is continuously raised.  Holding myself accountable on everything from making my best effort at work to remembering to take my contacts out before I go to bed, has required me to focus a little closer on my actions, realize where I take short cuts and make small corrections.  The attendant sense of accomplishment has been very rewarding, indeed.

This month, as we work on creating our most charming life, let us agree to try to be better — with the understanding that there will be days when we don’t quite get there (case in point: the tardiness of today’s post).  As long as we remember to pick ourselves up and try again tomorrow, we are more than halfway to our best ever.

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

Quite Continental Charm School: Day 20 — A Proper Lunch

20/02/2012 § Leave a comment

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

Women workers from the assembly line at the Douglas Aircraft Company plant in Long Beach, California in October 1942. FSA/OWI photo via the Library of Congress.

I haven’t trusted polls since I read that 62% of women had affairs during their lunch hour.  I’ve never met a woman in my life who would give up lunch for sex.
–Erma Bombeck

Day 20: Eat A Proper Lunch
Years ago, lunch was a defining element of the day. We had the Ladies Who Lunched, the “3 martini lunch” and well-known lunchtime seating hierarchies in dining rooms across the country.  In the professional world, lunch was a deliberate event: it was planned, it was enjoyed and it wasn’t crammed into 60 paltry minutes (or less).  It was an oasis in the middle of the day, even if a good amount of business was done over lunch.  It was a way to break up the monotony of the day, leave the confines of one’s desk, and breathe a bit of fresh air.

Why do we seem to not value our midday repast as much as we once did? So many working lunches in dreary conference rooms and sandwiches held with one hand whilst the other is on the mouse!  Is it just me, or have you noticed this can cause the day to take on a tinge of drudgery?  The fix?  Make the time in your workday to have a proper lunch.

Now, this doesn’t mean that you must have a white tablecloth present when you sit down to lunch, or even a reservation.  All you need to do is make the time you have for your lunch deliberate.  Step away from your desk.  Better yet, leave the office.  Try local cafes and restaurants.  Bring your lunch and sit outside (weather permitting).  At bare minimum, even if you only have time for a brief walk around the block, any way that will hit the reset button on your “desk time” will do wonders for your mood and frame of mind.  Even if you work from home or are a stay at home parent, a small break in the middle of the day can be vital in maintaining your focus and your spirits through the rest of the day, allowing you to work smarter and harder.

I must confess, this is something that I can be downright horrible at.  The frequency which I eat a little sad bit of sushi or soup whilst parked in front of my monitors at work is much higher than I’d like (and is definitely not charming).  While work is important and keeps me busy, there is no reason I can’t simply remove myself for a few minutes of every day to clear my head.  Let’s give it a try, shall we?

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

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