Quite Continental Charm School: Day 29 — The Icing

01/03/2012 § 5 Comments

The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life
Photo by Ed Clark for Life Magazine, 1955.

Editor’s note: I almost can’t believe that we have reached the 29th post in this series.  February has flown by!  Before I launch into the last installment, I just want to take a quick moment to remark upon what an amazing experience this month has been.  First of all, I am exceptionally thankful for all of your comments and emails and thoughts and encouragement throughout the month.  It is exceptionally gratifying to know that you have been enjoying Charm School as much as I have.  Thank you, thank you!  Second, it has been a distinct pleasure collaborating with some of my favorite people, and I hope you enjoyed meeting them.  And lastly, while February may be over, I’m going to try to carry the spirit of Charm School throughout the year, and I hope you will too.

Day 29: The Icing
Today, for our last lesson, I wanted to mention something I like to call the icing.  At times, when we aren’t feeling grateful, when we let our competitiveness get the best of us, we sometimes start to hang our would-be happiness on future events.  I’m sure I’ll be happy when  I lose 5 pounds.  I will be happy when I get a girlfriend.  I will be happy if…when…  Sound familiar?

The thing is, when we condition our happiness on external events, it is the quickest way to feel bad about yourself in the present.  Moreover, when you perceive a need for things to make you happy, the things are going to keep changing.  The goalposts will forever be moving.  You will always come up short.

Instead, try to remember that you already have everything you need to be happy.  You don’t need a huge engagement ring or a baby or a boob job — you don’t need to be completed, because you are already complete.  You are as complete as that tiny seedling in the picture above.  Everything that seedling needs to become a tree is contained within, just as everything you need to become the fullest expression of yourself is contained within.  You are enough.  Turn your focus inward, not outward.  That way, anything that arrives in your life — that boyfriend, that promotion — is simply icing on the cake.

When I looked back over all of the lessons, I thought it was important to mention this, as I definitely don’t mean to imply that you have to buy any things to create a charming life for yourself.  Rather, I believe that those with charm work on the inside stuff first.  Charming people allow that quality to shine through their daily lives, no matter if they have a nice umbrella or not.

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

Quite Continental Charm School: Day 28 — Be Enterprising

28/02/2012 § 2 Comments

The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life
Photo by Nina Leen for Life Magazine, 1956.

Editor’s Note: I’m very pleased to introduce our next guest speaker!  My good friend Jessica Goldfond, is the founder of the accessories and fashion PR firm and showroom called The Shiny Squirrel, as well as her blog by the same name where she shares her discoveries in style, art, fashion and aesthetics.  She is a lovely, hilarious and giving person, who I feel lucky to call my friend.  Hanging out all over New York aside, I also had the good fortune to travel with Jessica in California this past fall, when we drove from Los Angeles to San Francisco, with an amazing stop over in Big Sur (you can see that trip here).  Along the way we ate amazing tacos, sang classic rock at the top of our lungs, spied on sleeping elephant seals and took in the amazing beauty of my home state’s coast.  She happens to be quite the traveller, with trips to Turkey and Germany on her list for this year.  Of course I am very jealous she’s not taking me along.

When I began the Charm School project, I approached a disparate bunch of individuals, fully aware that they would each bring something different to the “curriculum.”  Confession: I actually had an idea in mind for each of them, ready to delicately suggest, just in case they had trouble coming up with their own topic.  I will admit that I sort of strong-armed Jess into my topic of choice.  I most hoped she would participate because I wanted to hear how she founded her very successful business, because she truly is an inspiration for all the would-be entrepreneurs out there, and because she doesn’t often tell her story.  If you are not yet familiar with Jessica, or The Shiny Squirrel, it is my pleasure to introduce you.

Editor’s Sidenote: I have widened the topic only a bit, only because I believe you can derive a lot of personal satisfaction from your life by simply being enterprising.  Here I use enterprising to mean motivated, venturesome, being resourceful and showing initiative.  While this may manifest itself in the founding of a business like Jessica, it doesn’t necessarily require it.  In fact, I’d even include things such as the founding of a book club, a church group, a blog or even using Pinterest under the enterprising umbrella.  The point is, find something that is completely yours, that will excite you, and throw yourself into it.  A charmed life is a motivated, satisfied life, and if money happens to follow, that’s icing on the cake.

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

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Day 28: Be Enterprising
I can’t say I have any great wisdom or a formula as to how to make it work or even where to begin. I started my business or the concept that would be my business 6 years ago and been organically letting it evolve ever since. I decided to launch a PR company and showroom because I was tired of working for other people and wanted to feel 70 years from now that I really accomplished something with my life. I have been striving and working on that feeling everyday since.

I think the best way to start a business is to look at what you love and think about how you can formulate that into a plan. It’s important to ask questions, always take calculated risks, and develop the ability to recognize an opportunity when it presents itself.There are no failures if you learn from the mistakes you made along the way. I think a bit of self-reflection always helps to build the foundation of a company and let it take shape. Passion, Hard Work, Kindness, Generosity and patience are definitely some of the key factors in making something successful.

It is always important to remember that a business is built in a series of blocks or stages. Slowly but surely it all comes together over time.

Here are a few things I think would be awesome for building a business:

Present and Correct has some of the best office supplies around and I would love to use this little pad to take invoices if I am writing an order.

I find Fort Standard’s work and products really inspiring and would love to add these building blocks to my growing collection of their work.

I never seem to have a nice pair of scissors on my desk so these are a beautiful shape and have a nice feel to them.

I love having plants around me especially in lovely containers like this.  It is inspiring and refreshing if you have to sit indoors all day on a computer.

by Jessica Goldfond, of The Shiny Squirrel

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

Quite Continental Charm School: Day 25 — Travel Light

25/02/2012 § 6 Comments

The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life
Image via the George Eastman House.

Day 25: Travel Light
On the topic of travel, we’ve already discussed what you should wear while you travel and keeping a journal, but I still wanted to touch on what I consider my best trick for a charming voyage, no matter if it is for a weekend or a month: always travel light.

I honestly can’t remember the last time I checked a bag on a plane, but it isn’t — thankfully — because I have a harrowing story of losing my cases on a trip.  I’ve been blessed to have never lost anything while travelling — knock on wood.  Instead, it was born from two distinct recognitions: First, that I have a definite lack of patience when it comes to travel: no patience to wait for the baggage carousel to fire up, no patience for dragging around heavy rollies in crowded train stations, no patience for checking in bags.  But second, and perhaps more importantly, I noticed a growing desire for simplicity while I was travelling.  I realized I didn’t need to drag along endless individual options in an overstuffed bag, but rather a multipurpose uniform that contained endless combinations.

I’ve since made two week trips to Cairo, London, Paris and Buenos Aires, all with only a carry-on.  While the ease in getting around while on the trip is refreshing, I must admit the hands down best part of travelling light is stepping through customs and heading straight for the taxi queue — don’t even give that baggage carousel a second glance!

A few tips to help you travel light:

  • When packing, first, pick a single color scheme: that way, everything will match everything.  Then, set out everything you want to bring, and try to cut it in half.  Get comfortable with the idea that you will repeat items.  Plan to do laundry while you are travelling and streamline your choices even further.
  • Ladies, your secret weapon is a single dress that can be dressed up or down.  Nice dinner? Add heels and a clutch. Casual walkabout? Throw a chambray shirt on over it and belt it at the waist.
  • Only bring the toiletries you absolutely cannot live without.  In most places, you can buy the basics.  If possible, stockpile samples of your essential items — they pack excellently.

How do you pack?  Do you travel light?

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

Quite Continental Charm School: Day 23 — Go Out and Play

23/02/2012 § 1 Comment

The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life
Madrid, 1908.  Image via the George Eastman House.

Editor’s Note:  One of the best parts of working with some of my nearest and dearest on my Charm School project have been the times when a contributor has suggested a topic that I had on the brain as well, because I knew if the two of us were both thinking about it, you probably were too.  Case in point, today’s topic.  When Christine sent me the idea for her post (Day 8: Your Family Jewels), she enclosed an additional thought that I also had on my own list of things to talk about this month.  What follows is not another guest post, per se, but I wasn’t about to omit her lovely words from the conversation.  I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

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Life moves pretty fast.
If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.

-Ferris Bueller

Day 23: Go Out and Play
When we are little, we eternally wish were bigger, older, allowed to stay up late and sit at the grown-up table.  This emphasis on the future, on what is to come, isn’t confined to childhood.  It doesn’t magically stop once we get to watch the Late Late Show.  That yearning to be older is gradually replaced with the notion that we are hurtling towards our future in a runaway train with a busted emergency brake. College! Grad School! Marriage! Children! Career! Retirement! Where Grandfather Time once seemed to ignore us, he now seems to be breathing down our necks as we frantically race to tick all the boxes on the life checklist.

Today, I want to let you know that the emergency brake isn’t really busted.  All your grown-up self needs to do to slow things down, to get a breather and reengage that kid who (shortsightedly) wished he didn’t have to sit at the folding card table at Thanksgiving, is to go out and play.  Rediscover the things you loved to do as a child, and you will definitely receive a respite from the frantic pace of life.  Did you draw as a child?  Why not get yourself a new sketchbook and drawing pencils?  Did you enjoy the dinosaur bones at the museum?  Make a trip to visit them again.  Did you play little league?  Join an adult league.  Whatever you love, I guarantee you will feel the same thrill you used to feel when you buy your art supplies, spy a mastodon, or step up to the plate — I know I do.

Engaging your inner kid will bring great joy to your outer adult and help you truly live in the moment.  I can’t think of anything more charming than that.

By Christine, of N’East Style:
“When I feel like I’m in the thick of things or my life is a horrible mess, I always turn back to the activities that I loved to do as a child. For me a few of those things would be: read Jane Austen or Leo Tolstoy (nerd alert!), watch classic old movies (preferably starring Katherine Hepburn or Paul Newman), sit in a tree, dance in my room, go for a long walk by myself, bake a cake, knit a scarf, or draw in my sketchbook. I think it’s rather common that as you get older, you lose touch with the simple things that you really love to do, and it’s only in your youth that you have the time and stress free existence to regularly indulge in them. Yes, yoga and going on a detox diet of some sort is all fine and dandy. But for me, getting back to my early passions is what really gets me grounded and back in touch with myself. It’s something I don’t do nearly enough, but when I do it’s absolutely fabulous.”

How do you indulge your inner kid?
How will you go out and play?

Image via the National Maritime Museum.
The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life

Quite Continental Charm School: Day 22 — Eat Chocolate

22/02/2012 § 2 Comments

The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life
Taken at Fort Myers in 1940 by David Scherman for Life Magazine.
Even the US Army understands how important chocolate is.

Editor’s Note: I’m very pleased to introduce our next guest speaker!  Sarah Seilbach Brasher is the amazingly talented designer behind Edelweiss by Sarah, a line she started in Brooklyn in the summer of 2008 after spending time at Vena Cava, Maggie Norris Couture and Elise Overland.  I can’t remember how I first found Sarah, but immediately after seeing her collection, which is heavily influenced by the styles and silhouettes of the 1930s and 1940s, I demanded an invitation to her atelier (you can view my post on our afternoon here).  It was then that I was able to discover how delightful a person she is, as well!

After you peruse her shop, you’ll quickly notice how remarkably well she incorporates an air of nostalgia into her completely wearable and feminine designs.  My love of Edelweiss by Sarah is a complete no-brainer.  If ever you are in need of the perfect party dress, Sarah’s your girl.  If you are not yet familiar with Sarah, or Edelweiss by Sarah, it is my pleasure to introduce you.

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

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Day 22: Eat Chocolate
To me nothing is more mysterious and intriguing than eating chocolate.  Chocolate was said to have come from the Amazon some 4,000 years ago but it was the Maya and Aztec people who really brought cacao to us.  Using the cacao bean as money as well as using if for offerings to their Gods, they would make spicy chocolate drink during their most sacred ceremonies.  It symbolized life and fertility.

I own and run a small fashion business.  I find that work can get stressful and overwhelming to which I find myself looking for a little outlet.  Chocolate.  I believe that a woman taking the time to really enjoy a piece of chocolate is not only fabulous but also captivating.  That afternoon chocolate will give me a burst of energy that will get me through the rest of the day.

Photo from Sarah’s instagram. Find her at @edelweissnyc

Find what chocolate excites you.  To be honest most of the time I only have the Lindor dark chocolate truffles on hand. They are still delicious but if I could, I would keep a box of Voges Chocolate Truffles in my desk.  I would either go with an exotic assortment or a box of their Aztec Truffles.  I would eat one a day and take the time to step away from my work and enjoy that piece of chocolate.

We all need to take a little time to enjoy the beauty and mystery of chocolate.

by Sarah, of Edelweiss by Sarah.

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

For Serious, Matilda.

22/02/2012 § 8 Comments

Taken by Nina Leen, 1947.

There is no real reason I selected this picture, other than for its awesomeness.  I like to call it: “This hat and I are about to kick your ass in bridge.  For serious, Matilda.”

Today, I am getting serious about Lent, though.  I’m not especially religious, nor am I a Catholic (I’m actually a lapsed Episcopalian), but every Lenten season, I like to challenge myself to give up something.  For those unaware, Lent runs from Ash Wednesday (today) through Easter Sunday; 40 days in total.  For Christians it is a period of penitence, of giving up certain luxuries and of fasting.

Am I turning into a Sunday School blog? Hardly.

But I do think the concept of penitence is applicable universally, no matter what altar you choose to worship at.  A 40 day period is a great amount of time to reflect upon yourself, your personal habits and things you might want to change.  To abstain from some of your bad habits for 40 days will take some willpower.  I once managed to convince a very unhappy Mister to give up booze with me, rough going indeed, but we survived.  They say it takes only 30 days to cement a new habit, so why not seize upon the season to make some purposeful changes?

What I will attempt to give up for the next 40 days:

  • The snooze button.  You will be profoundly missed!
  • Those delightful bacon, egg and cheese bagel sandwiches I’m very fond of
  • …and dairy in general, for that matter.
  • Passive negativity

What about you?

Sidenote: Would you believe this is my **600th** post?  In the spirit of gratitude, I wanted to send a big thank you to all of my followers, old and new.  I hope you understand how much I really appreciate your reading and comments and emails and sharing of this silly little blog.

You guys are the absolute tops.
xoxo. M.

Questions? Comments? Suggestions?
Reach me via email at contact@quitecontinental.net

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Quite Continental Charm School: Day 21 — Drink More Gin

21/02/2012 § 9 Comments

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

Women in a New York City bar, 1941. Taken by Nina Leen for Life Magazine.

Editor’s Note: I’m very pleased to introduce our next guest speaker!  My good friend Marisa Zupan is a journalist, writer and the founder of the excellent men’s style blog The Significant Other, where she provides a thoughtful and studied female opinion on issues, brands and individuals important to the well-dressed man.  If your boyfriend/father/boss/anyone! is in need of a bit of a sartorial upgrade, please forward him to Marisa posthaste.

After I learned of our shared love of wearing beautiful neckties, I guessed we would get along famously, and I was right.  Marisa is one of the most grounded and supportive individuals I have ever had the pleasure of meeting and I’m also quite pleased she chose to write about gin, one of my favorite libations.  If you are not yet familiar with Marisa, or The Significant Other, it is my pleasure to introduce you.

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

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Day 21: Drink More Gin
Let’s face it ladies, you’ve been drinking mostly vodka your whole life. In high school it was vodka and crystal light (everyone did that right?), college it was vodka and whatever the hell juice your roommate had in the fridge, and in your young adult life it’s been some vodka martinis with the occasional ironic whiskey on the rocks to switch things up. Through all of this, gin has really gotten the short end of the stick.  I’ll admit, in my younger less classy days, I thought gin tasted like licking the underside of a moss covered rock, but those days are over and this year will be the one when I educate my much more mature palate.

Like its flavor profile, Gin’s history is varied and complex. It was discovered by Italian monks, used as medicine during the bubonic plague and, because it was cheap and (too) readily available, gin became associated with people and places of disrepute in London. Despite its sordid past, gin made a come back in the British colonies and has since then been the spirit of choice in some of the classiest and most popular cocktails. In my efforts to become more gin-knowledgeable, I discovered Brooklyn Gin, a company based right in my backyard. The ingredients, fresh citrus and juniper berries, are bought at a market only a 10 minute walk from my apartment, and distilled 30 minutes out side of the city. Local and delicious, what more could a lady ask for? A cocktail recipe. Below is just that, I hope you enjoy, here’s to kicking the vodka habit and getting more sophisticated in 2012.

Olive Rosemary Martini (via Martha Stewart)

Ingredients

2 ounces gin
2 teaspoons dry vermouth
1 rosemary sprig
Pitted olives

To Make: 

Shake 2 ounces gin and 2 teaspoons dry vermouth with crushed ice; strain into a stemmed glass. Strip leaves from bottom 2 inches of a rosemary sprig, skewer through pitted olives, and add to the drink.

by Marisa Zupan, of The Significant Other.

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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

Quite Continental Charm School: Day 15 — Keep a Travel Journal

15/02/2012 § 5 Comments

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

Charles A. Lindbergh’s flight journal. Photo by George Silk.

Editor’s Note: I’m very pleased to introduce our next guest speaker!  Jen Swetzoff is a writer, editor, mommy and the founder of the travel blog Parenture (parenting + adventure) where she focuses on family-friendly vacations, the best gear for families on the go and gives her readers an inside look at the places she travels to with her husband and her daughter, Baby E.

A secret: how I know Jen differs from all of our guest speakers thus far.  Ours is a friendship that predates either of our blogs, in fact — I met Jen very soon after my arrival in New York, and we worked together for some time.  I’m especially in awe (jealous) of the fact that she has travelled to twenty countries on six different continents in the last ten years.  And while I am not a mom myself, the locations that Jen suggests, especially those upstate, almost automatically get added to my to do list.  If you are not yet familiar with Jen or Parenture, it is my pleasure to introduce you.

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

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Day 15: Keep a Travel Journal
Honestly, writing often feels like the last thing I want to do on vacation. But I do it anyway. Because no matter what other souvenirs I carry home, my travel journal ends up being the most treasured. Cameras are amazing, and I always pack one of those, too, but they’re predictable. Reliable. They always do the same thing and do it well. They capture clear and accurate moments of time–instants really, that exist and then fade away–and make them stand still forever. Which is great for people like me with crappy memories.

But words, written in our own sloppy handwriting, are fluid and imprecise and subjective. Which makes them either hilarious or profound in retrospect. Even when I’m not in the mood to put pen to paper (both of which I always have in my bag, locally and on the road), the right travel journal–a brand new book–is inspiring. Its openness gives me the same sense of hope that planning a trip does. On its pages, I can think, dream, remember, record, realize. Because anything’s possible on a blank page. Anything can happen on a great adventure. So even if you don’t have a trip planned yet, get yourself a travel journal.

Here are a few of my favorites to get you going:

Hands down, this Smythson is the classiest travel journal on the market. For some reason, it makes me think of Out of Africa. But I gotta say, I like the pretty pink version too.

I love a classic Moleskin, with all its literary history, but this company just gets better with age. Have you seen the new Moleskin travel journal?

The colorful and lighthearted journals from Archie Grand just make me smile.

Loving this adventurous notebook as well.  It’s also a Moleskin, but has been screen printed by the lovely print shop and design studio Fifi du Vie

Bon voyage!

by Jen Swetzoff, of Parenture.

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

Quite Continental Charm School: Day 14 – Write Love Letters

14/02/2012 § 2 Comments

The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life
Waverly Place, New York, 1968. Image via the George Eastman House.

Happy Valentine’s Day!  I hope you are having a wonderful day filled full of all sorts of love!  The city felt quite festive today, with lots of flowers and balloons on the subway.  Always nice to see New Yorkers excited for love.  We’re not quite as cynical as movies would have you think!

Day 14: Write Love Letters
On a day that celebrates affection, today’s tip for a charmed life suggests you make record of your love in a concrete manner.  Nothing is more romantic, more touching or more timeless than the art of writing love letters.

While momentous when said the first time, it is possible that “I love you” can sometimes become something of an aside, a routine.  When you write down how you feel about someone, it allows you to explain all that your “I love yous” have symbolized: how much you admire them, how much you respect them, how much you desire them.  Things they might have felt (or maybe not!), and things they should be told.

A few guidelines:

  • Love letters don’t need to be novels — if you’re feeling exceptionally stuck, try starting out with short notes.
  • You’ll always get bonus points if you deliver your love letters in an original way — I like tucking them inside the book you’re reading, attaching them to your bath towel so you’ll see it in the morning, or sending them in the mail to your office.
  • Lastly, I will admit that this post was in part inspired by the letters of Clementine and Winston Churchill, but I don’t want you to think that this only can be applied to romantic relationships.  Some of my favorite valentines of all time are those sent to me by my friends and by my parents, in fact — hearing that my friends and family care for me is something I could never tire of!

Taking the time to tell someone how much you love them only opens you up to receive more love.  It is classy, it is fabulous, and it is charming.  Could there be a better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day?

See also: 28 Days of Classy & Fabulous: Be Your Own Valentine (2011)

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

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