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
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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 8 — Forgive Yourself

18/02/2013 § 11 Comments

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

QC Charm School: Forgive YourselfAlbino horses fighting, 1945.
Taken by William Shrout for Life Magazine.

Today’s post and today’s lesson is a bit out of the ordinary. While February tends to be my busiest and happiest time of the year here on the blog, with Charm School and Fashion Week and etc., you may have noticed that I went dark after the 8th of February, a full ten days ago. I touched upon the fact that I was dealing with a few things in “real life” in a post I called The Bump, and I was trying my best to keep up with the already rigorous schedule I had set out for myself, but I found that I just…couldn’t. As difficult as it was, I knew that it would be for the best if I stepped away for a short time.

Today marks the first time I’ve felt ready to talk, and while we lost some ground on February, I am promising to you that I am going to finish out my Charm School lesson plan – all 28 lessons of it – even if it takes us into March (and it will). I apologize for this unforeseen delay and I want you to know that I would be honored if you decide to continue to follow along with me. With this mea culpa, I’d like to transition to today’s lesson.

There is a hard law. When an injury is done to us,
we never recover until we forgive.”

–Alan Paton

Day 8: Forgive Yourself
When I decided that I would have to take a short hiatus, I was immediately seized with feelings of guilt. No matter that I knew it was the right thing to do in the moment, for my sake and my personal well-being, I still felt like I was falling down on the “job” and that my readers might be upset that I wasn’t doing what I said I would (or at least, when I said I would do it). I felt like I was letting everyone down, and that really frustrated me, but I had to face reality. I had to be honest with myself that I couldn’t do it all. I needed to create some space in my schedule to deal with more pressing matters, and to do that I had to hit pause on the blog. Most importantly, I also needed to forgive myself for this temporary shortcoming, because without that forgiveness, I would be stuck in a place where I felt like a failure, when the whole point of this exercise was to give me the ability to move forward.

Forgiveness can be a tricky thing. When you feel you have been wronged, it is human nature to seek out a target to blame. It is difficult to deal with the concept of an indiscriminate universe, one that doesn’t bound itself by the sensible rules of fairness, and when things don’t go our way, we want to find a reason. Most times the scapegoat is someone in close proximity to the hurt or occurrence – the boss that fired you, the boyfriend who broke up with you – but sometimes, the scapegoat is yourself. You are the reason your finances are a mess, you are the reason your bed is never made, you are the reason that you don’t eat right, you are the reason you don’t have a girlfriend, you, you, YOU.

Forgiving someone else can be hard enough, but forgiving yourself? It can seem downright impossible, and it is something that I personally have struggled with for most of my life. From the fourth grade when those goddamn multiplication tables would just not stick in my brain, to how frustrated I am currently at myself for not going to the gym enough (ok, ok, at all), I regularly beat myself up about things large and small, and the “blog pause” was no exception. The thing is, when we scapegoat and hold grudges (even against ourselves), we prevent growth. We remain stuck in a whiny, anxious purgatory where all we can do is focus on past disappointments, failures and bad feelings. This is not what I want for you, or for me.  It’s about as far from charming as you can get.

Today I want you to try to focus on taking a step back and forgiving yourself for all those “shortcomings.” Try to acknowledge and accept the fact that you didn’t quite hit the benchmark, but double down on the effort to get there next time. Focus on what can be, not what was, and take positive steps. Make to-do lists, chart progress, count victories, forgive shortfalls. Letting go of the self-blame opens you up to the possibility of living your most charmed life yet; a life that understands we will stumble sometimes, a life that forgives.

Lastly, while stepping away from Charm School for a few days was a personal decision that I forgive myself for, I also hope that you will be able to forgive me for going dark without any notice. It was never my intention to leave anyone in the lurch, and I hope you will decide to stay with us for the remaining lessons. Class is officially back in session.

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 5 – The Bump

06/02/2013 § 12 Comments

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

QC Charm School: The BumpMrs. Donn F. Eisele during her husband’s trip on the Apollo 7 mission, 1968.
Photo by Vernon Merritt, via Life.

“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”
— Haruki Murakami

Day 5: The Bump
Most times my Charm School entries are plucked from the vintage-imbued ether that tends to swirl about my brain, but there are special times that I find inspiration in what is happening in my own life, or from conversations my friends and family.  Today’s lesson is of the latter category.  When I recently experienced a personal setback unrelated to the blog, it impacted my “production schedule” and, frankly, my motivation and pleasure for writing.  Aside from a general malaise about blogging, I also was sailing upon troubled waters.  I was upset, I was angry, I was hurt, I was worried, and the tumult of these feelings lead to a sort of paralysis — almost like a state of emotional shock.

While I felt like all I wanted to do was to sit on my couch and wring my hands, I knew that the only way to improve my current state was to affirmatively affect the present — not wallow in the past, nor worry about the future — after I took time to honor and own the emotions I was experiencing.  While a lot of this was work I had to do on myself, personally, my lovely family, friends and colleagues also played an important part, offering me support, advice and assistance in many different forms.  They listened to me.  They checked in on me.  They spent time with me.  And as they showed that they cared for me in ways large and small, it helped me to feel stronger.  I felt more and more like I didn’t want to wring my hands.  I felt like I wanted to move forward, and that I had the ability to do so.

I was especially affected by the words of someone very special to me, when we were discussing the fact that I was upset that I didn’t even feel like blogging — something I’ve always taken a lot of pleasure in doing.  He assured me that what I was feeling was okay, and possibly even a good sign, because it showed how much I cared about producing something I was proud of.  He also pointed out that my blog was a reflection of my life, and that with a full life there were bound to be bumps, so the blog was bound to have bumps too.  That I had to deal with the bump, ride over it, and — truthfully — try to be ready for the next one, and that I should not take less joy out of blogging because of the bump, because I was learning about myself.  I was growing.

So for today’s lesson, I want us all to focus on making The Bump our friend.  Whatever troubles you might be facing, big or small, if you can find a way to look at them as opportunities for growth, I can guarantee that you will feel empowered to make the affirmative steps to take yourself up off that couch and to stop wringing your hands.  We are only a victim of our circumstances if we allow ourselves to be.  Rude as it may be, The Bump is there to remind us that it is time to change our perspective.  Let’s enjoy the ride as much as we can.

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

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