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!