Monday, December 14, 2009

I believe... Santa, singing carols, candlelight, warm fires, going out to look at Christmas lights, crying at least 3 times during "It's a Wonderful Life," champagne, baking smells, the cat curled up by the fire, twinkle lights, scarves and sweaters, bundling up and going for a walk, being nice while Christmas shopping, and getting people what they want. I believe in giving of yourself, your time, your money, your stuff, and your love. I believe in dreams, good books, Rudolph, Charlie Brown Christmas, and Bing. I believe in undivided attention, peace, love, and peppermint bark. I believe in ringing bells, wreaths and greenery, and funny socks. I believe in wishing Joy to you!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Nat, Bing, Frank, and Dean

For me, it's the sound of Christmas, that really gets it started. Bing Crosby's "It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas" usually does the trick. Frank Sinatra's "Hark the Herald Angels" works as well. The Christmas season starts to descend.

The next step, is, of course, to get the Christmas tree so the house smells like Monterey pine. And little twinkle lights. And cocoa or champagne. And a fire.

When I get out the Christmas decorations I feel like I am greeting old friends. There you are, dear snowmen, dear angels, dear Santa.

But for me, slowing down and almost imperceptibly loosening the tight knots of the year are also as crucial. Thank you boys, you help a lot.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Cashmere socks...

...and Chai. So the Chai is very 2000s (whatever this decade is called). But I bet Cary Grant wore cashmere socks although I have no evidence to prove it. Regardless, it makes for a cozier evening.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Lately I've been wanting to upgrade my around-the-house wear. It usually consists of an unfortunate mix of sweatpants and socks because I live in a drafty old farmhouse and it can get cold even in this temperate climate. If I were Audrey Hepburn, I could wear a blue robe a la Charade. If I were Ingrid Bergman, perhaps Cary Grant would walk in on my using cold cream while in a dark robe. In the 50s, it appeared like there were nice matching sets of robes, slippers, and pyjamas to wear while being cozy in front of the fire. So much more elegant.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Last of the summer roses

I pruned our roses yesterday--well, at least about a dozen of them. In our mild climate, I have no idea if I am early or late. It just seemed the right time. We added some mulch and now they seem like they each have little blankets to shelter them until next year.

Amidst the prunings were some perfectly good roses, which I gathered and brought inside and put them in containers. They smell heavenly and old-fashioned. Near my kitchen sink they are homey and comfortable. As it should be.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Dapper little man

Never mind that he is currently wearing bright orange fake safety goggles from the toy store (he's helping dad around the house), my son is dapper. He got his hair cut the other day, which aged him at least two years (so he looks like he is five). But it's cropped short and it's shiny and he looks like he could be a little boy from 50 years ago.

Although his sartorial preferences usually lean towards flashing sneakers and Thomas the Tank Engine shirts, I do note that he has a thing for red and for good pajamas. Atta boy. Oh to be three...

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Burnt orange and robin's egg blue

It's Fall, which makes me think that it's time to re-watch Breakfast at Tiffany's: burnt orange coats, boxes of Cracker Jack, Halloween masks from the five and dime, perfume in the mailbox, and leaves falling.

I went to Tiffany's recently (in Beverly Hills, not Manhattan), and I can assuredly report that they did not have a sterling silver telephone dialer for the man who has everything. They have lots of sterling silver, but as this is the age of smartphones (not that I have one), you don't really need a dialer to deal with a touch screen. Not that you ever needed a sterling silver telephone dialer.

Tiffany's did, however, help me give the mean reds the heave-ho. They polished my ring so that it sparkles in the sunshine, distracting me while I drive. Now if only I could get it engraved...

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Being a kid

My one year old daughter has been given lots of frilly dresses. If she doesn't wear them on a regular basis, she never will wear them (much like using the "good" china). Thus, I try and put her in them occasionally.

Today she was wearing a white frilly short dress with bloomers. We ended up at the beach after lunch. Although totally impractical, she looked like a Kennedy, wearing white at the seashore, her blond curls shiny in the son.

I guess kids can be elegant too.

Friday, October 16, 2009

On being a grownup

I notice that in vintage movies and especially children's books and movies, the goal was to be a grown up. To be Jim Dear and Darling in Lady and the Tramp. To wear high heels or a tie, spray perfume, and go out at night to shows.

Not it seems that the goal is to be about 22 (maybe younger). While it isn't always true (for example, my favorite "reality" show, Project Runway, usually has a "token" adult on the show), usually the exploits of the young and barely legal are celebrated in the media while simply being a grown up is not.

I am in no rush for my kids to grow up. They will be there soon enough. But
to be elegant is to be a grown up.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

On Dancing

Although not popular by any means now, I love the old Hollywood musicals. Since the last best one was made ten years before I was born, I don't know many people my age who agree. But there are some new movies that cater to today's audiences but have some elegance about them. I recently saw Take the Lead, with Antonio Banderas, on DVD, which fit the bill.

Mr. Banderas plays Pierre Dulane (a Spaniard with a French name, no?) who ends up being an inner-city ballroom dance teacher, as improbable as it may seem. Mr. Dulane, however, is vintage elegance today. He teaches graciousness, manners, respect, and, of course, the tango, the foxtrot, and the rhumba. What fun. Although not perfect, I adore the scenes where Mr. Dulane opens doors for people, addresses people with respect, and generally has an air about him that makes people stand up straight and smile with a twinkle in their eyes. Dear Hollywood, more of this please. Thank you.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Cleanliness is ...

I've been spending more time lately cleaning my house than I used to. I'm happy that I am putting in the effort.

Ordinarily we have enough spider webs around here to have a haunted house in September. Ordinarily there is the detritus of children cluttering up at least one room. (I try not to have it overtake the whole house.) Ordinarily the house slips into entropy, requiring the expenditure of energy to put it back in order.

But I think that clean surfaces, neatness, and "a place for everything and everything in its place" are all very elegant.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Chasing paper

They don't seem to have junk mail in old movies. Nor cell phone bills, catalogs, explanations of benefits, receipts, free address labels or toy instructions. There are papers, of course, but they are more important: hand written letters, telegrams, contracts. Even in old noir offices of the private detective, while there are papers, it seems to be less than the amount that shows up in my mailbox every week. So much more elegant not to be drowning in paper!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Shopping, as event

When Fred Astaire goes shopping for Judy Garland, he comes away with colorful boxes tied with satin ribbons and a supporting cast to carry them behind him.

When I go shopping, I have Target bags rolling around in the back of my car.

How to reconcile the two?

I have been to some stores where they take the time to carefully wrap up your purchases, because the exchange of money for goods is an event. This happens more frequently when you have purchased something special. For example, I have been to one chocolate store, in particular, where a white-gloved sales clerk handles the chocolates you select as if they were jewels. Likewise with a jewelry store I like--even the box is an event.

I think the sale clerk at Target would look at me crooked if I asked her to wrap up the diapers and get a porter for me, though. Oh well.

Friday, September 4, 2009


I went to a talk today on business etiquette. Most of it was what I already knew or should know (chew with your mouth closed, write thank yous, don't cut people off while driving or talking). But I picked up a few interesting phrases, the theory of each is that it makes the other person feel better, which is, of course, the whole point of etiquette.

One was to sign emails, "At your service,"

I think that's a rather gracious way of closing.

Another was to respond to "thank you" with "it's a pleasure" rather than "no problem," which avoids the implication that a client could be a problem.

A third idea was to say "thank you for your patience" instead of "I'm sorry I'm late." This is interesting--the theory is that a customer will just get grumpier if you don't compliment them.

A final idea was instead of saying "okay" all the time, say "certainly," or "very good" or "of course." This is to stand out from the unwashed masses who say "okay" all the time. Of course.

A hopeful sign was the large attendance. Very good.

As always, I am at your service.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


Tasha Tudor, protector of everything circa 1830, said, "I don't believe in hurry."

There's some wisdom there, and some good advice. I need to take it. Lately, I have been too busy to see straight; to think straight; to write proper thank-yous; to tidy my house. There are a million to-dos and this doesn't include time for myself (whatever that is). I suppose this blog is that time. Although I am grateful for my business, I can't help but wish for less busyness at times.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

How to be elegant when it is really hot outside

I know of only two ways to be elegant in triple digit heat.

The first is to go find air conditioning in a place like a movie theater or Nordstrom (drink Pellegrino in the cafe). Bring a sweater. Stay there until evening.

The second is to slow down. Drink lemonade. Stay in the shade. Wear cool, loose clothes. Take a nap. Don't do much of anything. Go swimming if you can. Eat something you don't have to cook like a caprese salad. Look at clouds if there are any. Dream.

But perhaps the second is good advice on not so hot days too. Stay cool, my friends, stay cool.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


I am again having nostalgia for things I never had. One of those things is a certain amount of formality in life. I never lived in the era of hats and gloves. I don't know what I am missing. And since obviously, a blog is one of the most informal means of communication there is, I'm not practicing what I preach at all times. But I do think there is a time and place for formalities.

One way I get this in every day life is in my day job. We call the judge "your Honor" even at a chance meeting seeing the judge get a gyro for lunch. We use business cards. (I love business cards. They are like calling cards.) We dress up. We frequently refer to people we don't know or don't like as Mr.___ or Mrs. ___. I like all of this.

With our kids, we are following the example of a friend from the South. Her children refer to all adults as Mr. (first name) or Miss (first name). I like this too.

All in all, it's nice at times not to be overly familiar with others, especially those you don't know. Formalities are an elegant solution to maintain a dignified distance when wanted.

As a side note, in languages such as Spanish and French, formalities are built into the language and a handy way of ordering life. Tu or usted? Vous or tu? All in all, another elegant solution.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

On going for a walk

After dinner, frequently Tom and I will put the kids in a stroller or two and go for a walk in the country around here. We've worked out a route that has the least amount of traffic, friendliest dogs, loops around rather than goes there and back, and takes about a half hour. We walked it last night.

I noticed that I enjoyed the human scale pace of walking. If I lived pre-cars, this would be my main mode of transport. I'm sure my main social sphere would be my immediate neighbors. It makes moving more significant.

Sometimes we talk, sometimes we don't. Sometimes we see birds, or if we're late, bats. Most of the time the neighbor's friendly dog greets us. We notice the pomegranate tree and whether the fruit look good. We notice the nurseries and the orchards. We notice that there's still that sprinkler riser with an orange perched on it. How long will that be there? Sometimes the kids zone out. Sometimes they chatter. Sometimes they struggle to get out of the stroller. Sometimes they practically fall asleep.

I think it's good for everything--mind, body, soul, emotions, relationships, and digestion to walk. Elegant? Perhaps.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

On patience

I never knew how much children tested your patience until I had them. Boy oh boy. Or rather, a now three year old boy and a baby girl. I've lost my patience more times than I care to admit. But on nights like tonight, when I mostly kept it while being severely tested, I feel better. And yes, more elegant.

I simply can't imagine Audrey Hepburn losing her patience with her children. I've seen pictures of her older son dressed up in various superhero costumes and it looks like there was a lot of love and a lot of fun in her family. Since she was among the most elegant people to ever live, I think there's a clue here.

So, keep your chin up and your patience as best you can. (I'm telling this to myself.)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

On being polite

Unfortunately I have been lax in my courtesy with my son's birthday party. Honestly, the big day snuck up on me. There was vacation and then a wedding and then I was sick and did it get to be a week away! Eek!

So, I'm hopelessly unorganized and hopelessly unorganized translates to impoliteness. The invitations have been an unholy mix of telephone calls, text messages, and a few written invitations. The proper thing, of course, is to call everyone two to three weeks in advance. I'm not even sure that everyone who should know about it does. Ah, well. The best intentions....

So, of course, politeness is always elegant. But busy moms can't let their sons not have a big day when everyone gets together all at once around a cake and sings "Happy Birthday."

N.B. I do not think that my son needs any presents of any import. He really does just love the point in the party when everyone sings. So my apologies to the universe for being lax and I'll try better for my daughter's birthday party in October!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Recession Chic

A lot has been written about various economic hardships that many people are experiencing now. Our version was actually pretty amusing.

Within the past year, Tom and I realized that to get to the end of the month, we would either have to (1) not spend anything or (2) put stuff on credit cards. Being averse to debt, we chose (1), which required some creativity (and a trip to CoinStar to buy diapers).

Among other things, we decided that if the last meal of the month was refried beans with spaghetti and rice (and whatever else was in the pantry), so be it. We wouldn't get scurvy in 10 days.

Well, luckily, our pantry had chocolate cake mix, chocolate frosting, and the good wine we were saving for a special occasion. I think the freezer had a filet mignon.

So, our recession era cut back was to eat all the fancy stuff that we had on hand and were saving. I put the multi-layer chocolate cake on a pedastal just for fun. Honestly, it felt like the Depression-era Fred Astaire movies where Fred is penniless in a tuxedo. Or, perhaps, the band playing as the Titanic sank!

So my advice is, if you get stuck, don't be afraid to use up the good stuff.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Use what you've got

I received flowers yesterday (thanks, Karen!) but the baby was sleeping in the stroller, which was blocking the cabinet where I keep the vases I normally use. Rather than move her and risk waking the sleeping child, I looked around.

Fortunately, our house was built in 1913 and came with a lot of accessories. I remembered that I had a large pink art-deco fan-shaped vase that came with our house.
I've never used a vase like that before. But I'm well pleased.

Instead of being bunched in a dome, the flowers form a single-layer fan across the top. It's good to be resourceful and try something new.

Of course it also helps to live in an antique shop (well, this is practically an antique shop), but the principle is the same wherever you live. For example, I love arranging flowers in Mason jars too. So elegant!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Simplicity, Part I

My baby giggles in the swing. There may be no simpler pleasure. She goes back and forth, gripping the bar, big eyed and tiny. Toes wiggling. Giggling.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Impeccably behaved children

Well, mine certainly are not. But at dinner tonight, Tom said that there's a blog entry here. The almost-three year old stayed in his seat (mostly). He said "may I please" and "thank you" at least half the time. He ate his chicken without much encouragement and without any complaint. He did not spill milk. And this is on my great-grandmother's good tablecloth. And this was not a sippy cup. As for the rest of the meal...

Garden tomatoes? Check. Good wine? Check. Good bread? Check. Good meal? Check.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Make an effort

My dad mentioned to me that the other day when all of us were out of town he felt a little lonely but he felt better after he washed his car. I had my car washed today and felt better too. I can see out the back window. There's no goop on the windshield, no dust on the hood. For $6.99, I felt better not only about my car but also about life in general (and this is even though I'm sort of sick). The same principle applies to clothes, relationships, meals, grammar, haircuts, and house decoration. You simply have to make an effort. When we make the effort to be more presentable to the world, we feel better. At least I do.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


My husband and I returned from Minnesota, having experienced a rarity: a gracious meal out WITH the kids. What made it so special? I think the answer partly is space.

We were at the Minneapolis-St Paul airport (Humphrey Terminal) and ate at the restaurant there, which is a typical pub. The set up of the restaurant, however, is conducive to elegance. There is a lot of space between tables for people to have room for luggage. I did not feel like I was squished in a restaurant listening to anyone else's conversation. Accordingly, our conversations felt private and I did not feel like the kids were bothering anyone.

The restaurant also has, conveniently, an entire wall of windows with airport activity outside to occupy an almost-three year old boy. And they have mashed potatoes for the baby. All in all, surprisingly elegant.

Besides physical space, we also had time, because we were early and were not in a hurry. That is an additional type of space. I think the kids picked up on it and were as calm as we were. All in all, granting people extra space is extremely elegant.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Shiny or shabby?

I was thinking today about whether or not clothes had to be new to be elegant. Of course the answer is no, but usually when I think of something stylish and elegant, it's out of the pages of a glossy magazine and usually out of my price range. There is a certain precision of fit, fineness of material, and glamour.

But then I think of, oh, the entire city of Venice, Italy, and conclude no, fabrics don't have to be new to be elegant. Or I think of college professors in their tweed, worn at the elbows. Perhaps the key is quality and fit, rather than newness.

But I wouldn't say no to an all expenses paid shopping trip either. (See The Palm Beach Story for my favorite scene in any movie ever--stranded on a train without her suitcase, Claudette Colbert receives an entire new wardrobe paid for by a rich man. This includes the jeweled bracelet to go with the bracelet sleeve suit. Her mysterious benefactor merely writes down all the expenses, but he never adds it up. A fairy tale for adults.)

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

On travel by air

When Charles Lindbergh prepared to take his wife flying, he weighed everything that went into the plane, including her (all 90 pounds) and some fishing line that weighed less than an ounce.

Rick Steves advises for any trip to Europe, and I quote, "Pack light pack light pack light." Or something like that.

I'm trying to keep that in mind as I begin to pack up a toddler, an infant, and two adults for a plane trip to Minnesota for a weekend wedding. Stroller and car seats? Yes. Extra book for mom? No. I'll be lucky if I get to read the safety card. The question is, can air travel be elegant now? Well perhaps, but only if you have few possessions to monitor.

My husband accuses me of having nostalgia for things I never had. He's right. One of those things is air travel without security. (Reference: See Blue Hawaii or Catch Me If You Can). Air travel seemed like it used to be more elegant and glamorous. Now it's just a matter of survival--a sort of backpacking expedition where it may be best to wear flip flops and no belt and buy a bottle of water once you get through the metal detectors.

Of course I long for porters, hard sided luggage, champagne and romance. But I think the closest I'll get to elegance on this trip is if I follow Rick Steves' advice and Pack Light Pack Light Pack Light.

Monday, August 3, 2009

For here or to go?

I could take the easy route and simply say, see Rear Window for an example of how to get take out food.

That's probably too short a blog entry.

A longer entry: The impossibly glamorous Grace Kelly has the waiter from "21" bring up a complete dinner to Jimmy Stewart's apartment in a taxi cab. The food is then placed on proper plates and wheeled in to the wheelchair bound Stewart. Of course it's lobster or some such rich food. At any rate, it's all terribly elegant and a far cry from the predigested fast food that's out there now served on greasy paper and plastic forks. It's interesting to me how so much of life is in the presentation.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

If not now...

Tonight we had baked pasta with salad for dinner, and melon for dessert. I mention this because it's a rather every day type meal, at least for us. On a whim, however, I served it on our "good" china, i.e. the beautiful china we received as a wedding present, which we have not used since Christmas. I put a garden rose in a jar on the table and used cloth napkins, a cloth tablecloth, and pretty wine glasses.

I'm glad I did.

For me, it's nicer (and yes, more elegant) to have dinner on a real table cloth, with real dishes, real food, and cloth napkins. This is real life, of course, so it's not perfect. But it's easier to keep your good humor (or recover it) while watching the two year old attempt to use a big fork on a thin china plate and sip milk from a real glass instead of a sippy cup. (He used Tom's childhood drinking cup, which was a chipped beef jar. We found it in the wood pile outside.) But if he doesn't get used to eating properly at the table when he's young, then when?

Saturday, August 1, 2009


A famous elegant woman I never met was Jacqueline Kennedy. Lucky for me I've read a lot of books about her. Most of the books are about her clothes, oh, the clothes. But almost all of them mention the fact that she was an excellent listener. Apparently she had a way of putting people at ease and getting them to talk about themselves, redirecting the inevitable focus from herself to others. (Perhaps this is why she has remained in the collective imagination of people like me who were not alive during Camelot; she has remained an enigma. There is always something to wonder about her.) So chances are, if I had met her, I would not have learned very much about her. But maybe I would have picked up some ideas on how to be a better listener.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Paring down

Today the movers came and removed an old trailer from the orchard. Everyone is much happier. We're happy because we can reclaim the space. The movers are happy (probably) to have a job. The new owner is happy because he's going to be able to use it in his business. It's all good. It got me thinking about how much time we had spent wanting to get rid of it. I believe that clutter, whether mental or physical, simply takes away from elegance. I believe that one of my best habits is dropping stuff off at the Goodwill about once a month. I believe that paring your stuff down to what you really need and love, is always more elegant.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Do one thing at a time

I saw something recently--and I don't know if it's true--about a woman who was arrested for driving while breastfeeding and talking on the phone. All at the same time. Again, not sure if it is true, but isn't that a symbol of our harried world? And, frankly, I could see it happening to me if I wasn't the law-abiding citizen that I am.

It's much more elegant to do one thing at a time.

The worse I have found myself is simultaneously drinking coffee and brushing my teeth, which was comical, in a way, but also sad.

There are, of course, many things that are elegant when done together, but that is more a matter of synergy. For example, sitting at dinner with interesting people and having a good conversation with good food and drink. Or listening to music while you do something you enjoy (like reading or writing) or don't enjoy (like cleaning the house). But doing only one at a time is more elegant.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

On bread

A sure-fire pick-me-up when I was lonely during the time that I lived in Spain was to go shopping. This was because I could be social and talk to people and not stay in my apartment. Also, it was easy to speak shopping language (it's just pleasantries and numbers and money--easy things to talk about in Spanish). A favorite kiosk was the bread stall, mostly because the old man who sold bread, who was about as crusty as the bread, called me guapa. Every time.

But the bread...

In Spain, the bread is exceedingly fresh and uniform throughout the country. It's just plain good fresh white bread. (My Swiss friend Sonja--there you are again, dear--thought that the bread had better variety in Switzerland and after visiting her there, I'd have to agree. But I digress.) In Spain, like in other Mediterranean countries, It's not eaten with butter, except at breakfast. It doesn't last more than a day. (A good way to eat leftovers is to grate a tomato and add olive oil and salt and pepper and spread it on toasted bread.) But it's elegant.

One of my first impressions of Spain was eating lunch with an elegant Spanish woman, who ate continental style (fork in left hand, knife in right), and put her small portion of bread on the table beside the plate.

Around here, we're bread snobs. La Brea does the job. So does the bread machine. So, add bread to the list of essentials, but only if it's the good stuff.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Complex tastes

When I was pregnant with my son, it seemed that I reverted to childhood and craved macaroni and cheese, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and fruit punch.

Now that's over (thankfully), I'm finding that my current favorites are complex tastes: dark dark dark chocolate, red wine, good strong coffee, blue cheese, and of course, champagne! I suppose all of these are elegant?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Children's elegance

I don't believe that children have to be anything other than children when they are very young. And my children are quite young (9 months and almost three years) so they don't have much of an opinion about their style or manners. But I do have some observations.

My two year old son is most elegant when he doesn't know you are watching. If you catch him relaxed, lounging, and completely at ease, he is so natural and at one with the universe. That has to be a definition of elegance. This also happens when he is engrossed in play. When he is engaged in anything simple and elemental, like running through sprinklers, he is also elegant (although cleaning up afterward may not be). He can get away with wearing anything at all (today, it was orange shirt, red boots, and green and blue plaid shorts) or even nothing and look cute. But when he is dressed up, he is quite a dapper little man. He is also elegant when his manners slip out: "How was your day, mommy?" or "thank you." So there are plenty of times that we endure spilled milk and toys all over his room, but he can be quite elegant in spite of that.

My daughter, the baby, is still a little baby. I don't think that babies should wear too many frills or be too punk rock (i.e. no black). But that quiet alert stage of newborns, when they are calm and just look around, is magical. And the baby's giggles with her brother's laughter at the same time is also, perhaps, the purest sound in the world.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

On the dangers of coffee to go

When I was in law school, my friend and I agreed that we were uncivilized because we drank our coffee in cups with a lid. Civilized people drank their coffee in cups with a saucer. She gave me a darling white cup and saucer upon our graduation from law school as a present.

Fast forward a decade. I have two small children and despite the fact that I attempt to allow an extra fifteen minutes for everything that I do...well, in the morning I'm still running late and frequently attempt to bring coffee to go in the car. Bad idea. It almost always spills. It's fallen off of the car roof while I opened the door, spilled on my seat, spilled on the passenger seat, spilled on my suit. When I do manage to not spill all of it, then there is the driving and slurping, which is more like injecting caffeine rather than having breakfast. And don't get me started on the paper to go cups from the coffee shop... All in all, not elegant.

Friday, July 24, 2009

How to have a picnic

There are many ways to have an elegant picnic. Here are two.

If you are Grace Kelly:

You drive to a lookout point in the South of France in a convertible and nibble on fried chicken. You drink cold beer, pouring it in a small glass. Your companion is Cary Grant. See To Catch A Thief.

If you are not Grace Kelly:

You unearth a big blanket and place it on the front lawn. You eat good sandwiches and Rainier cherries with your children and spouse and unsuccessfully look for clouds in the sky.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Patience is elegant

I haven't seen a person who was impatient and also elegant. It could happen. But I think it's unlikely. This is why:

It is beautiful to be at ease.

When I get impatient, I don't think of myself as particularly elegant; I think of only myself. This is not at ease. This is not beautiful. This causes ulcers.

Think of how much more elegant the world would be if we would take the time to allow others to do whatever it is they wish to do. Drive slower. Chat in line at the supermarket. Play with a toddler. Finish the cup of coffee while sitting down. Take the time to really read a good book instead of rushing to the end. Slow down. Elegance is patient.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

On snobbism

The root word for elegance is a Latin word (ēlegāre, variant of ēligere) meaning to select or to choose. It might bring up snobby connotations to some. But maybe that's okay. A favorite quote by Madeleine L'Engle (From A House Like a Lotus) explains why:

"She cut me off. 'Go ahead and be a snob. I'm a snob. If you didn't interest me I wouldn't give you the time of day. Being a snob isn't necessarily a bad thing. It can mean being unwilling to walk blindly through life instead of living it fully. Being unwilling to lose a sense of wonder. Being alive is a marvelous, precarious mystery, and few people appreciate it. Go on being a snob, Polly, as long as it keeps your mind and heart alert. It doesn't mean that you can't appreciate people who are different from you, or have different interests."

I suppose I am unwilling to walk blindly through life instead of living it fully. LIving life fully, my friends, appears to be wholly a matter of choice.

Friday, July 17, 2009

On not being boring

My Swiss friend Sonja came to visit earlier this year and made me strawberries macerated with freshly ground black pepper. (Note to Dad: "macerated" means that the berries are softened by something, normally sugar, which causes them to release their juices.) Although unusual, black pepper made it an unexpectedly elegant dessert, especially with good vanilla ice cream. It brought out the redness and sweetness of the strawberries. Although you noticed the pepper as unusual, it was nevertheless harmonious. On a nice evening, with nice company, it was quite memorable. It certainly wasn't boring.

I believe this idea translates into other areas of life, for example clothing. The normal advice is to wear classic colors and shapes to be elegant. Good advice, but it can be boring.
A challenge is to come up with the sartorial equivalent of black pepper on strawberries. Perhaps it's a gentleman wearing a seersucker suit on a hot day. Unusual, yet harmonious and unexpected all at the same time. And frequently memorable.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The naming of blogs...and island vacations

I belatedly noticed that the title to this blog was similar to that of a favorite book: Elegance by Genevieve Antoine Dariaux. The similarity wasn't intentional; I had meant to name this blog "Toodle-pip" after Bertie Wooster. But that name was taken and this is what I thought of next.

Elegance is a 1964 book that I purchased for $12.15 in an antiques store in Pasadena many years ago. That was the discount price. Alphabetically, from Accessories to Zoology, it provides "A complete guide for every woman who wants to be well and properly dressed on all occasions." I've seen a reprint on, which is apparently updated, although I find the vintage-ness particularly charming.

A favorite entry, just in time for my seaside vacation next week is found under Yachting. In part it states: "Now is your chance to show everyone that you are not afraid to be seen without make-up, that you never leave a trail of disorder in your wake, that you have a wonderfully even disposition, and that your elegance is based on utter simplicity. If this be the case (and if you are not subject to seasickness and know how to swim), you will surely have the most wonderful time of your life."

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


I don't profess to have all the answers. Nor do I profess to be elegant at all times (or even frequently). But I certainly have always had an interest in elegant things and people: Audrey Hepburn, Fred Astaire, champagne, Grace Kelly, pleasant manners, thank you notes, beautiful sunsets, pearls. I have not yet found a website that celebrates the things I like, so I thought I would create one. I collect quotes, movies, books, and other sources of inspiration. Perhaps this site can help me be more elegant...and you too! Enjoy!