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.