Tuesday, March 27

Series on Biblical Womanhood...

Lauren is doing a series on Biblical Womanhood at her blog, My Choice, His Life. Hop on over an add your two cents to her thoughts and ideas!

Turn on the Charm...

Charm. It's intangible, ineffable, impossible to pin down. The phrase that comes closest is a French one (naturally): je ne sais quoi -- "I don't know what." Yet we all recognize it when we see it: Think Audrey Hepburn, Oprah Winfrey, Diane Sawyer. Celebrities and politicians may possess charm in spades, but there's more to it than physical beauty or sexual magnetism. Marlon Brando was a great actor -- intense, brooding, exuding a dangerous appeal -- but charming ? Not really. But Tom Hanks, by no means leading-man handsome, is as charming as they come.

That this elusive combination of effervescence and intelligence is so difficult to define may explain why social scientists have paid far less attention to it than they have to more easily identifiable "pathologies" such as clinical depression or social anxiety. But that's starting to change. New research has been teasing out charm's elements, identifying the characteristics common to people who draw others toward them like bees to blossoms.

It's hardly an exact science, of course. Like beauty, charm often lies in the eye of the beholder. (Haven't we all been left cold by someone a friend has raved about?) Still, genuinely charming people nearly always exhibit certain universal traits. Here are the five that experts agree on.

1. A Sense of Humor

This tops the list, ranking higher than poise or social ease, according to a new study by John Czepiel, PhD, of New York University's Stern School of Business. Funny people attract others effortlessly: At a party, the person with the largest circle of admirers is the one who's making everyone laugh. This is partly because "humor offers immense physiological and psychological benefits," says Steven M. Sultanoff, PhD, a California psychologist who is the past president of the Association of Applied and Therapeutic Humor. "It reduces stress hormones, dulls physical pain, and promotes social bonding."

And humor isn't necessarily innocent. In fact, the most seductive variety is often off-color, irreverent, sly. One of the most popular Washington hostesses of the last century was Teddy Roosevelt's daughter, Alice Roosevelt Longworth, an indefatigable gossip and world-class charmer who kept an embroidered pillow in her sitting room that read, "IF YOU CAN'T SAY SOMETHING NICE, THEN SIT NEXT TO ME." The likely source of Longworth's appeal -- apart from the guilty pleasure derived from being an "insider" listening to her cut an unsuspecting outsider to ribbons -- was the sheer vitality and candor behind her attitude. Humor often involves an almost-childlike willingness to flout social conventions: Who among us hasn't had fun breaking the rules of staid, grown-up life?

Although humor alone does not guarantee charm (David Letterman can be hilarious, but it would be a stretch to call him charming), funny people are usually highly original, points out Dr. Sultanoff. And originality is a prime element of charm: Truly charming people never resemble anyone else but themselves.

2. Insight and Passion

Charming people seem extraordinarily tapped into life, fully engaged in the possibilities of the moment, and bystanders are sucked into that engagement, too, just by virtue of sharing their space. High intelligence, curiosity, and creativity -- the ability to see connections between seemingly unrelated things -- form a "sharp perspective," a kind of intelligent charisma that's magnetic.

Charmers also tend to be full of energy, life, and exuberance -- qualities that are extremely contagious, points out Kay Redfield Jamison, PhD, a professor of psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and the author of Exuberance. "People are attracted to Oprah partly because they trust her, but partly because they think some of her energy is going to rub off on them," Dr. Jamison says. "Charming people make other people feel more alive."

Perhaps the most potent charmers are those who manage to inject a lightning bolt of liveliness into otherwise-dull circumstances. Lori Breeden, a grant coordinator in Homewood, Alabama, remembers her college statistics professor, Betty Brazelton, as inimitably charming -- at least partly because Brazelton refused to behave like the stereotypical teacher of a dry subject. "This brilliant, elegant woman, who came to class dressed to the nines, was a fanatic about Auburn University football," Breeden recalls. "On game days she'd paint her face and drive to campus in a car decorated with the school colors, not at all embarrassed by her enthusiasm. She made statistics so much fun that our class presented her with roses on the last day of the semester. I doubt there's another stats prof on earth who can say that."

3. Effortless Social Grace

These "high voltage states," to borrow Dr. Jamison's phraseology, are not the only form that charm takes. There's also a subtler version -- sometimes called grace or poise -- that's characterized by knowing exactly what to do or say in every social setting, no matter how unorthodox. Charming people are not fretters, says Michael Levine, author of Charming Your Way to the Top. They're comfortable in their own skin, projecting a kind of self-confidence that makes other people comfortable in theirs. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, for instance, was the epitome of social ease, whether she was wearing Bermuda shorts and a head scarf at the beach or silk and diamonds at a ball. This kind of charm is grounded in unerring good manners, but it extends beyond basic courtesy: It's about putting others at their ease, no matter the circumstances.

Anna Giattina, a teacher in Birmingham, Alabama, remembers her own mother as serenely unruffled by an endless stream of guests who'd drop in unexpectedly at dinnertime: "There were always extra mouths to feed -- my friends, my father's clients, neighbors, people from church. They'd arrive unannounced and stay indefinitely, but my mother welcomed them all. If there wasn't quite enough food to go around, guests would help themselves from the pantry. That's how comfortable she made them feel."

4. An Interest in Others

Most of us are satisfied with the typical polite exchange -- "How are you?" "Fine, and you?" -- that greases the social machinery. But charming people make time to delve. "If you go anywhere with Carrie, you quickly realize that she knows everyone, from the university president to the waitress at the coffee shop," says Shannon Anderson, a college professor in Houston, Texas, referring to a colleague. "And I don't mean in the 'have a nice day' way. She asks about their sick parent, their dog, their son's progress at school. She's sincerely interested." Charming people listen intently, without interruption, and when you stop talking, they ask another question, then another. And they're right there with you -- their eyes aren't darting around the room.

This is one area where charm is defined a bit differently for men and women, says Sherron Bienvenu, PhD, a communications consultant in Utah. "Frankly, women are usually far better at listening than men," she notes, "so when a man listens with his full attention, the behavior seems remarkable." Bill Clinton -- widely regarded as one of the most engaged listeners in public life -- is almost universally considered a charming conversationalist, even by people who disagree with him.

But there's more to it than simply listening without interrupting. Charming people embrace others -- they're never too self-conscious, or too busy, to make someone feel treasured, set apart, unique. Breeden remembers her father's description of a family friend: "Jess makes you feel like she's been waiting all day for you to walk into the room." That kind of obvious pleasure in the company of others is the essence of charm.

Legare Vest, a high school teacher in Nashville, remembers her grandmother, Dorothy Watkins, as the most charming person she has ever known, and a big part of it was her seemingly limitless desire to reach out to others. "She kept a list of people she 'owed' a note -- even just a 'how are you?' -- and wrote one nearly every day. People loved getting them. Every time we went to the grocery store, someone was sure to say, 'Dorothy, your note made my day.'"

5. Curiosity About the World

Charming people are deeply curious. They're wide-open to all aspects of experience, constantly trying new foods, reading books, meeting people. They want to know about everything -- what raw squid tastes like, how you wound up with an emergency appendectomy, where butterflies go in the rain. It's almost a hunger: Tell me more! And the attitude is infectious, inspiring in others the sensation of more energy, deeper engagement, greater curiosity, says Dr. Jamison. "A person who is not innately curious and lively will feel more so when he is around someone like this."

Being open to experience has another upside: "People with this quality tend to be more tolerant," Dr. Jamison notes. Because they're interested in everyone, in finding out many perspectives, they project a kind of warmth and open-mindedness that may eventually lead to wisdom. In one long-term study at the University of California at Berkeley, women who were described by their peers as open and tolerant at age 21 were more likely to be described as wise 40 years later.

Given findings like these, it is hard to dispute Dr. Jamison's claim that scientists need to start paying less attention to the darker side of human nature and more to the positive. "I don't think people appreciate how important it is to figure out how these 'good' traits work," she says. "But I for one believe that this kind of research is absolutely vital to all of us -- as a species and as a society."

Want to Be More Charming? Start Here

About 10 percent of 4-month-old infants, research shows, already exhibit some of the most obvious signs of charm -- intense social engagement, high curiosity, and exuberance -- which suggests that these characteristics are innate. Nevertheless, they can be learned, says Michael Levine, author of Charming Your Way to the Top. Note, though, that learning to be charming is not the same thing as pretending to be. "Charm is sincere by definition," Levine says. "Fakery can be recognized in an instant." The trick, he says, is to practice the elements of charm so consistently that they become a natural, authentic part of who you are. Here, some charm school pointers:

Pick a role model. Who's the most charming person you know? Levine recommends observing that person and following her lead. Marilyn Paige, a reporter in Philadelphia, remembers a college friend: "Alice had amazing social instincts. By consciously imitating the way she dealt with people, I learned how to create a rapport with others."

Accept compliments gracefully. When you project positive feelings about yourself, others find it easier to connect to you, says Tina B. Tessina, PhD, author of It Ends with You. "As a result, you make friends, making you feel even better about yourself, making it easier to make friends. It's a positive spiral."

Be a good sport. You don't need to be a great storyteller or a natural comedian to have a great sense of humor, says Levine. All that's required is a refusal to take yourself too seriously. Dolly Parton, for example, is famous for laughing at herself: "It takes a lot of money to look this cheap," she'll say merrily.

Notice the nuances. "We all love it when someone sees beyond our most obvious features," notes Maya Talisman Frost, a mindfulness trainer in Portland, Oregon. "So make a point of commenting on what surprises and delights you about someone else."

Bone up. Part of being charming is listening with real interest, but an equal part is having something interesting to say, says Dr. Tessina. So get informed -- read all about the background doings of a hit movie or unearth a surprising fact about a historical figure. Be sure it's a topic you actually care about. People will respond to the passion they hear in your voice as you speak.

By Margaret Renkl

Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, March 2007.

Monday, March 26

March 25th...

It's time for another Commitment to Loveliness! This is a fun way to increase femininity and beauty in our lives each week without even trying! All you have to do is choose five things that you would like to work on or do during the week that will increase the loveliness in your life!

Here is my list for this week:

1. Prepare some food that can be frozen and sent back to my father-in-law.

2. Work on my picture frame project.

3. Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize!

4. Decide what the baby and I will be wearing for Pascha (Easter). I have a coupon for an outlet nearby that will be perfect for the baby, but I have no idea what I'm going to be doing for myself.

5. Purchase a basket from Michael's that will be used for the baby's Easter basket. Ideally, I'd like it to "go" with our family's basket. We'll see!

Once you have chosen five simple things, post them on your blog and link to this post in your post, and then post the direct link to your Commitment to Loveliness post below. If you do not have a blog, but have a commitment to share, please post them in the comments section.

I look forward to reading how others are celebrating their Commitment to Loveliness!

Saturday, March 24

What Shamu Taught Me About a Happy Marriage...

As I wash dishes at the kitchen sink, my husband paces behind me, irritated. "Have you seen my keys?" he snarls, then huffs out a loud sigh and stomps from the room with our dog, Dixie, at his heels, anxious over her favorite human's upset.

In the past I would have been right behind Dixie. I would have turned off the faucet and joined the hunt while trying to soothe my husband with bromides like, "Don't worry, they'll turn up." But that only made him angrier, and a simple case of missing keys soon would become a full-blown angst-ridden drama starring the two of us and our poor nervous dog.

Now, I focus on the wet dish in my hands. I don't turn around. I don't say a word. I'm using a technique I learned from a dolphin trainer.

I love my husband. He's well read, adventurous and does a hysterical rendition of a northern Vermont accent that still cracks me up after 12 years of marriage.

But he also tends to be forgetful, and is often tardy and mercurial. He hovers around me in the kitchen asking if I read this or that piece in The New Yorker when I'm trying to concentrate on the simmering pans. He leaves wadded tissues in his wake. He suffers from serious bouts of spousal deafness but never fails to hear me when I mutter to myself on the other side of the house. "What did you say?" he'll shout.

These minor annoyances are not the stuff of separation and divorce, but in sum they began to dull my love for Scott. I wanted — needed — to nudge him a little closer to perfect, to make him into a mate who might annoy me a little less, who wouldn't keep me waiting at restaurants, a mate who would be easier to love.

So, like many wives before me, I ignored a library of advice books and set about improving him. By nagging, of course, which only made his behavior worse: he'd drive faster instead of slower; shave less frequently, not more; and leave his reeking bike garb on the bedroom floor longer than ever.

We went to a counselor to smooth the edges off our marriage. She didn't understand what we were doing there and complimented us repeatedly on how well we communicated. I gave up. I guessed she was right — our union was better than most — and resigned myself to stretches of slow-boil resentment and occasional sarcasm.

Then something magical happened. For a book I was writing about a school for exotic animal trainers, I started commuting from Maine to California, where I spent my days watching students do the seemingly impossible: teaching hyenas to pirouette on command, cougars to offer their paws for a nail clipping, and baboons to skateboard.

I listened, rapt, as professional trainers explained how they taught dolphins to flip and elephants to paint. Eventually it hit me that the same techniques might work on that stubborn but lovable species, the American husband.

The central lesson I learned from exotic animal trainers is that I should reward behavior I like and ignore behavior I don't. After all, you don't get a sea lion to balance a ball on the end of its nose by nagging. The same goes for the American husband.

Back in Maine, I began thanking Scott if he threw one dirty shirt into the hamper. If he threw in two, I'd kiss him. Meanwhile, I would step over any soiled clothes on the floor without one sharp word, though I did sometimes kick them under the bed. But as he basked in my appreciation, the piles became smaller.

I was using what trainers call "approximations," rewarding the small steps toward learning a whole new behavior. You can't expect a baboon to learn to flip on command in one session, just as you can't expect an American husband to begin regularly picking up his dirty socks by praising him once for picking up a single sock. With the baboon you first reward a hop, then a bigger hop, then an even bigger hop. With Scott the husband, I began to praise every small act every time: if he drove just a mile an hour slower, tossed one pair of shorts into the hamper, or was on time for anything.

I also began to analyze my husband the way a trainer considers an exotic animal. Enlightened trainers learn all they can about a species, from anatomy to social structure, to understand how it thinks, what it likes and dislikes, what comes easily to it and what doesn't. For example, an elephant is a herd animal, so it responds to hierarchy. It cannot jump, but can stand on its head. It is a vegetarian.

The exotic animal known as Scott is a loner, but an alpha male. So hierarchy matters, but being in a group doesn't so much. He has the balance of a gymnast, but moves slowly, especially when getting dressed. Skiing comes naturally, but being on time does not. He's an omnivore, and what a trainer would call food-driven.

Once I started thinking this way, I couldn't stop. At the school in California, I'd be scribbling notes on how to walk an emu or have a wolf accept you as a pack member, but I'd be thinking, "I can't wait to try this on Scott."

On a field trip with the students, I listened to a professional trainer describe how he had taught African crested cranes to stop landing on his head and shoulders. He did this by training the leggy birds to land on mats on the ground. This, he explained, is what is called an "incompatible behavior," a simple but brilliant concept.

Rather than teach the cranes to stop landing on him, the trainer taught the birds something else, a behavior that would make the undesirable behavior impossible. The birds couldn't alight on the mats and his head simultaneously.

At home, I came up with incompatible behaviors for Scott to keep him from crowding me while I cooked. To lure him away from the stove, I piled up parsley for him to chop or cheese for him to grate at the other end of the kitchen island. Or I'd set out a bowl of chips and salsa across the room. Soon I'd done it: no more Scott hovering around me while I cooked.

I followed the students to SeaWorld San Diego, where a dolphin trainer introduced me to least reinforcing syndrome (L. R. S.). When a dolphin does something wrong, the trainer doesn't respond in any way. He stands still for a few beats, careful not to look at the dolphin, and then returns to work. The idea is that any response, positive or negative, fuels a behavior. If a behavior provokes no response, it typically dies away.

In the margins of my notes I wrote, "Try on Scott!"

It was only a matter of time before he was again tearing around the house searching for his keys, at which point I said nothing and kept at what I was doing. It took a lot of discipline to maintain my calm, but results were immediate and stunning. His temper fell far shy of its usual pitch and then waned like a fast-moving storm. I felt as if I should throw him a mackerel.

Now he's at it again; I hear him banging a closet door shut, rustling through papers on a chest in the front hall and thumping upstairs. At the sink, I hold steady. Then, sure enough, all goes quiet. A moment later, he walks into the kitchen, keys in hand, and says calmly, "Found them."

Without turning, I call out, "Great, see you later."

Off he goes with our much-calmed pup.

After two years of exotic animal training, my marriage is far smoother, my husband much easier to love. I used to take his faults personally; his dirty clothes on the floor were an affront, a symbol of how he didn't care enough about me. But thinking of my husband as an exotic species gave me the distance I needed to consider our differences more objectively.

I adopted the trainers' motto: "It's never the animal's fault." When my training attempts failed, I didn't blame Scott. Rather, I brainstormed new strategies, thought up more incompatible behaviors and used smaller approximations. I dissected my own behavior, considered how my actions might inadvertently fuel his. I also accepted that some behaviors were too entrenched, too instinctive to train away. You can't stop a badger from digging, and you can't stop my husband from losing his wallet and keys.

PROFESSIONALS talk of animals that understand training so well they eventually use it back on the trainer. My animal did the same. When the training techniques worked so beautifully, I couldn't resist telling my husband what I was up to. He wasn't offended, just amused. As I explained the techniques and terminology, he soaked it up. Far more than I realized.

Last fall, firmly in middle age, I learned that I needed braces. They were not only humiliating, but also excruciating. For weeks my gums, teeth, jaw and sinuses throbbed. I complained frequently and loudly. Scott assured me that I would become used to all the metal in my mouth. I did not.

One morning, as I launched into yet another tirade about how uncomfortable I was, Scott just looked at me blankly. He didn't say a word or acknowledge my rant in any way, not even with a nod.

I quickly ran out of steam and started to walk away. Then I realized what was happening, and I turned and asked, "Are you giving me an L. R. S.?" Silence. "You are, aren't you?"

He finally smiled, but his L. R. S. has already done the trick. He'd begun to train me, the American wife.

By Amy Sutherland

The New York Times

Published: June 25, 2006

It's in the Bag...

A woman's purse is a sacred object. A handbag can be a symbol of financial independence, a fashion accessory, first aid kit or a security blanket. I recall crouching under my desk on the 14th floor of my office building during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and feeling that everything would be all right if the building collapsed because I had my designer purse clutched to my chest.

For my mother, her first expensive bag was a promise. When my father's job briefly transferred him to San Francisco, he returned home to Iowa with an expensive purse from the exclusive I. Magnin store. After her friends were envious, she knew an engagement ring would be next.

A purse is the first outward sign of financial pride for my nieces who proudly carry around hard-earned babysitting money, and the last vestige of independence for elderly women. Bernice, my mother-in-law, carried a Coach leather purse until she died at age 95. When she started using a walker and couldn't manage a handbag, I'd hold it until we got to the car and the first words out of her mouth were,? Where's my purse?? It was such a part of her life that after she died, my brother-in-law hung her purse in his shed, so he always knows where it is.

Maybe the Egyptians had the right idea and women should be buried with their favorite purses.
You can see the changes in a woman's life by her purse. Edie, who used to be known for her cute, tiny, whimsical purses, ruefully says she now has a "mommy" bag. "People make fun of me, it's so big," she says. Made out of canvas, "because I trash my bags," her purse contains scotch tape, ribbon, makeup, 3 wallets, (two are her children's), change, her daughter's hair scrunchy, old letters, a mammogram reminder postcard, pens that don't work, toys for the kids and an empty eyeglass case.

Jane, a nurse and the mother of two girls who lives in a San Francisco suburb, says, "I used to need a very large purse, good looking (had to be nice leather) and be able to carry lots of stuff (champagne bottle, make up bag, extra pair pantyhose, hairbrush, address book, wallet,) you know-the basics--just in case! Now, I commute so I like a backpack. The weight is divided over my shoulders, and I can carry a book and read while I stand on BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit).

Ask a woman about her purse and she'll open up --her bag and her life. Nathalie Lecroc, a Parisian artist, has made a living out of immortalizing women's purses. Socialites, models and housewives climb four flights of winding steps to her tiny apartment located next to strip clubs. There she does her own version of a peep show, asking clients to empty their purse on her table so she can create a delicate watercolor of the contents. She and the client name the purse that will be immortalized in her upcoming book, Anthologies du Sac. Her only stipulations are that women do not edit their bags and that they bring their "everyday" bags.

All woman have a bag that they don't leave home without?it would be like walking out of the house naked. Apparently Queen Elizabeth even walks around the Windsor castle holding her classic handbag, which pundit's suspect contains treats for her corgis.

If you really want to know a woman, it's in her purse, but investigate those hidden depths at your own peril. When I caught my college boyfriend going through my bag, it was the beginning of the end of our relationship. Debbie describes a purse invasion like someone walking into the bathroom while she's taking a shower. "I let my partner and my kids look in my purse, but I always feel vulnerable if they do. They're usually just looking for cash from the wallet, or when driving, I ask the kids to fish for my sunglasses or cell phone. But, it's weird how the inside side of a purse is a sanctuary of some sorts," she says. My husband is terrified to touch my purse--even when I ask him to-which is one reason we're still happily married after 22 years.

There is nothing like a purse in a man's life. They put money in their wallets and the rest in their pockets. Women and men's roles have drastically altered and overlapped during the past 50 years, but feminism has not changed the need for purses. In fact handbags have never been so prominent. Purses are the most sought-after accessories, generating millions for the companies that produce them. New "It" bags, with yearlong waiting lists, have saved entire fashion houses. "One thing about purses is that there's no size issue," notes Debbie. "Purses don't discriminate. A friend who's got a few extra pounds told me that overweight people love shoes and purses."
Women fall into craving categories: those who love jewelry, clotheshorses, shoe horns and purse collectors. For those who can't make the commitment to one designer purse, there is Bag Borrow Or Steal. This website allows members to borrow bags for a fee which they can buy if they can't part with the purse after the trial run. Edie and Debbie would be good customers. They both love designer purses but can't justify the expense. "I think a fine purse is a great fashion accessory and adds a classy touch to an outfit. Like shoes; a purse can make or break you," says Debbie. "But, for $300, I could get a whole outfit, so even when I had the money, I just couldn't shell out that much for a purse."

Faux designer bags sold at purse parties are all the rage but I agree with Carrie Bradshaw when she turned down a fake Fendi on "Sex in the City." It's all or nothing for me. On my honeymoon in France 20 years ago my husband wanted to buy me a Luis Vuitton purse. I had fantasized about owning one, but the price tag made me balk. Fortunately my husband insisted and it became my lucky purse that I took on every job interview.

My husband also found my current everyday bag, a backpack we saw in a window in Paris. This mauve buffalo-hide backpack resembles a sleek oversize envelope. Every time I wear it people stop me on the street and ask where I found it. It may be the best purse I will ever find and that's why my current behavior is so puzzling.

I've always been a one-purse woman who buys a quality bag and uses it until it falls apart. I don't like switching bags with outfits because inevitably I leave something important behind. It seems so complicated to have a purse wardrobe- like having an affair. And yet, lately I've been unfaithful to my backpack.

Blame it on a midlife crisis, but I recently bought three new purses. A pink evening bag at Burberry (75% off!) that I couldn't resist. My husband and I rarely attend fancy events anymore and yet I thought if I had the right bag, invitations would be forthcoming. When I was getting my nails done I spotted a handmade bag from the Dominican Republic (half off!) with a pattern reminiscent of the curtains I tried to climb as a toddler in Iowa in the 50's. Finally, a pink, paisley, canvas bag spoke to me at the Madrid (duty-free) section of the airport. After 20 years of marriage, should my husband be concerned?

When a woman changes her purse she changes her life--or at least hopes to change her life. Whatever reason for my purse indiscretions, I'm hoping it will keep my husband on my toes and add some spice to our marriage. Who knows, I may even get a new bag out of it!

By: Ruth Carlson

Thursday, March 22

The Keep it Clean Plan...

I've seen tons of these little "clean your house in ten minutes" routines, but I found this article a bit more clear then all the rest. I plan to put this into action, especially since I really love a clean and tidy home... just not the hours of cleaning that can go into it!

These room-by-room to-do lists will help you get the work done quickly so you can put your feet up sooner rather than later.

Kitchen, 4 1/2 minutes daily
Always start with the sink. "Keep it empty and shining," says Marla Cilley, author of Sink Reflections (Bantam, $15) and creator of www.FlyLady.net, a housekeeping website. A sparkling sink becomes your kitchen's benchmark for hygiene and tidiness, inspiring you to load the dishwasher immediately and keep counters, refrigerator doors, and the stove top spick-and-span, too.
  • Wipe down the sink after doing the dishes or loading the dishwasher (30 seconds).
  • Wipe down the stove top (one minute).
  • Wipe down the counters (one minute).
  • Sweep, Swiffer, or vacuum the floor (two minutes).

    Bathroom, 2 minutes daily
    Make cleaning the basin as routine as washing your hands. But don't stop there. Get the most out of your premoistened wipe by using it to clean around the edges of the tub and then the toilet before tossing it.
  • Wipe out the sink (30 seconds). Wipe the toilet seat and rim (15 seconds).
  • Swoosh the toilet bowl with a brush (15 seconds).
  • Wipe the mirror and faucet (15 seconds).
  • Squeegee the shower door (30 seconds).
  • Spray the entire shower and the curtain liner with shower mist after every use (15 seconds).

    Bedroom, 6 1/2 minutes daily
    Make your bed right before or after your morning shower. A neat bed with inspire you to deal with other messes immediately. Although smoothing sheets and plumping pillows might not seen like a high priority as you're rushing to work, the payoff comes at the end of the day, when you slip back under the unruffled covers.
  • Make the bed (two minutes).
  • Fold or hang clothing and put away jewelry (four minutes).
  • Straighten out the night-table surface (30 seconds).

    Family Room, Living Room, Foyer, 6 minutes daily
    Start with the sofa — as long as it's in disarray, your living room will never look tidy. Once you've fluffed the pillows and folded the throws, you're halfway home. If you pop in a CD while you dust, you should be able cover the whole room by the end of the third track.
  • Pick up crumbs and dust bunnies with a handheld vacuum (one minute).
  • Fluff the cushions and fold throws after use (two minutes).
  • Wipe tabletops and spot-clean cabinets when you see fingerprints (one minute).
  • Straighten coffee-table books and magazines. Throw out newspapers. Put away CDs and videos. (Two minutes.)

  • New Baby Shoes...

    Tuesday, March 20

    Feminine Inspiration: Make People Like You...

    Today, make people smile at you by your interest in them. By night you should have at least a dozen small triumphs in your collection. Add your own ideas to the following suggestions:

    1. Keep your voice soft, lilting, and uncomplaining.

    2. Neither think nor speak one single criticism.

    3. Write a gay little note to someone. Perhaps a solider?

    4. Let not one sigh rise from your heart.

    5. Spend five minutes looking at some beautiful scene. realize that you do not have to buy beauty to possess it.

    6. Sing! When the water runs if you want to drown out the sound of it - but sing for your soul's sake and your charm's sake.

    7. Pour strong mental germicide on any lurking self-pity - realize that you are privileged to live in momentous times and must be worthy of them.

    8. Love something - if only a rag doll.

    In other words, get a more pleasant "rise" out of everyone and yourself! Just this alone will make life sweeter, more responsive, more helpful and noble.
    The Woman You Want To Be
    Margery Wilson's Complete Book of Charm

    Goals for My Twenty-Seventh Year...

    After celebrating my birthday each year, I like to write a little list of some goals I'd like to accomplish before my next birthday. Here's what I came up with this year:

    1. Organize our home (room by room) using the book, A Place for Everything: Organizing the Stuff of Life, for inspiration. Many thanks to Meredith for recommending it!

    2. Learn to cook good Lenten meals with lots of variety. I have been working on this one for Great Lent. My husband said that this has been the easiest Lent for him since we've gotten married! Hooray!

    3. Read at least six books on Orthodox Christian subjects and pray often. Thank you, Courtney, for inspiring me to get back to reading! Recommendations welcome!

    4. Avoid laziness! Follow routines and schedules as often as possible!

    5. Aim for 6,000 - 8,000 steps per day.
    When I use my little pedometer, exercising is almost like a game!

    6. Compile a little book filled with Icons and simple text for Baby to use in church.

    7. Complain less.

    8. Schedule maintenance days once per month. The month of March is going to be all about the hair... my bangs are in desperate need of a trim!

    9. Finish reading the Mitford series by Jan Karon. I was on a roll and then got distracted by all of the lovely books Anna has been recommending!

    10. Train Baby to sleep BY HERSELF for her morning nap and the first half of the night at least!

    11. Cut household shopping bills in half without sacrificing quality.

    12. Create a beautiful atmosphere for the deck. This will hopefully include flowers, a seating/eating area, grill spot, and paddling pool!

    Double Chocolate Chip Cake...


    1 1/4 c. flour
    1/3 c. baking cocoa
    1 c. sugar
    1/2 tsp. salt
    3/4 tsp. baking soda
    1 c. water
    1/3 c. oil
    1 tsp. vanilla
    1 tsp. vinegar
    1/2 c. - 1 c. of chocolate chips


    1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
    2. Mix all of the dry ingredients in a medium sized bowl. Mix slowly until everything is brown. Add water, oil, vanilla, and vinegar. Stir all together and mash with a fork to break up lumps. Pour into a 8 x 8 square baking pan (un-greased) and sprinkle the chocolate chips over the top. Bake for 30 minutes. Cool before serving.

    * Emma's Note: We really like this cake when each piece is served with a scoop of fresh strawberries and a dollop of cool whip. You can use any fruit you like... my mother enjoys hers with canned cherries and cool whip!

    Classic Minestrone Soup...


    3 T. olive oil
    1 medium onion, chopped
    2 carrots, chopped
    1 zucchini, thinly sliced
    1/2 c. green beans, cut into 1 inch pieces
    2 stalks of celery, thinly sliced
    1 1/2 quarts vegetable stock
    1 28 oz can diced tomatoes
    1/2 tsp. thyme
    1 (15 oz) can of cannelloni beans, with liquid
    1/4 c. elbow macaroni
    salt and freshly ground pepper to taste


    1. Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onions, carrots, zucchini, green beans and celery. Cover and reduce heat to low. Cook for 15 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally.
    2. Stir in the stock, tomatoes, and thyme. Bring to a boil then replace the lid and reduce the heat to low. Simmer gently for 30 minutes.
    3. Add the cannelloni beans with the liquid and the pasta. Simmer for an additional 10 minutes (or until the pasta is al dente). Season with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

    Sunday, March 18

    More Dates for Kay...

    Coffee Hour...

    This was the second Sunday in a row that we provided coffee hour. Since my husband's birthday is on Wednesday, I tried to make it more special.

    Here's what I served:

    Minestrone Soup

    Salad (made with cucumbers, grape tomatoes, and red onions in a homemade salad dressing)

    Double Chocolate Chip Cake topped with ripe strawberries and Cool Whip

    Coffee, Tea, and Lemonaide

    A Flickr Set Worth Mentioning...

    Women with Icons

    photo by Jocelyn Mathewes

    Friday, March 16

    Inspiration for Jan Karon...

    It was bitingly cold despite the sunshine. The slow-moving Cam was dappled with the last yellow leaves of autumn, and a vicious little wind stirred the dust along Silver Street.

    She bought fruit, bacon, and sausages, enough to provide supper and a breakfast and to give her time o check the provisions in Eileen's store cupboard.

    She also bought a box of chocolates for Lovell and flowers for the invalid; and, at the last minute, dived into a shabby toy shop for crayons and balloons. Thus armed, she returned to the car, and having deposited her purchases, decided to treat herself to a splendid lunch at the garden House hotel nearby.

    She was on her way again, much fortified, within the hour.

    - from No Holly for Miss Quinn

    Tiger Lilies on My Dressing Table...

    Thursday, March 15

    April Cornell is Back!

    Visit the April Cornell Online Shop for some great feminine inspiration!

    What I Wore Wednesday

    This was my outfit yesterday. Please pardon the wrinkles! I had on a white boat neck sweater and my denim jacket from The Gap and a new chocolate linen skirt that I know will be one of my favorites this summer! It is the perfect shape! I love that it skims my hips at the top (not too tight and not too loose), but becomes full and floaty as it descends to my ankles! What is this style skirt called? Another thing that I like about this skirt is the fact that it has feminine detail (the hemstitch), but isn't too frou-frou.

    I was able to wear my sandals for the first time this year and though I had my doubts, I wasn't too cold. When we were at church, I popped on this cute little scarf and used my trusty bag to carry the essentials. I am going to remove the bit of linen with beads that I tied to the handle last night. It is not working for me!

    What I Wore LAST Wednesday...

    Here is the outfit that I wore last Wednesday! It seems so long ago! Since it was a snowy day and we had church in the evening, I opted for some warm things: My white shirt is a tank top with eyelet trim from the Gap (don't shoot me, but it is a maternity tank!) and the sweater is dark brown and from Eddie Bauer. I added my caramel colored skirt (with light blue and dark brown plaid) because I always feel like an old fashioned ice skater when I wear it... perfect for the inch of snow we got (ha!). I also wore my favorite sling backs made by Nine West (pardon the fact that they need a good polishing, please!), my pashmina shawl worn first as a scarf and then as a head covering, and my handbag/diaper bag by Longchamp.

    Fashion Rules...

    Here is a snippet from a recent newsletter sent to me by Susan Sommers of Dresszing. Her business offers services like: style and color analysis, wardrobe development (my specialty is showing how to Shop Your Closet, and create 20 new looks from what you own), personal shopping and etiquette and business interaction. I also develop and deliver corporate programs on personal branding, visual presence and business interaction. Check out her website and sign up for her free newsletter... it's definitely worth it!

    "Since you're probably starting to think about your spring wardrobe, I though a few of my fashion "rules" might be applicable. So here goes:

    1. Do more with less. Did you know that with the right 17 garments, you could create over 40 outfits, without repeating any? Notice, I said the right garments: those that suit your lifestyle, flatter your body and make you feel great. I've gotten into the habit of buying a fabulous suit every season that I wear together and as separates. This year, it's a brown Michael Kors skirt suit with a short fitted jacket and removable "leopard" collar. I wear the jacket either with or without the collar, paired with tweed pants, brown suede pants, brown flannel pants, camel pants, a multi-hued skirt and others and team the skirt with an assortment of different pullovers, cardigans and jackets. I can create a minimum of 15 outfits from that suit. And I feel terrific in every one of them.

    2. Base your wardrobe on neutral shades. Select no more than two as your core colors. Neutrals work well together and they send a more executive message. Remember, the deeper the hue, the more authority it conveys. Use pastels or brights as accent shades.

    3. Check the fit. The better clothing fits, the more expensive it looks. If you have a choice between costly clothing that's too big or too small or more affordable clothing that fits perfectly, opt for the latter. Ill-fitting garments undermine your confidence and your power. They don't look the money and worse, they don't look good.

    4. Personalize your look with accessories. You can stay true to your style and still portray a professional image (especially if you work for a conservative company) by using accessories wisely. Choose a signature, be it ropes of pearls, interesting shoes, antique pins or even a colorful flower on your lapel to make yourself memorable.

    5. Dress for the day. If you're in IT and intend to be crawling around rewiring computers, don't wear your best suit. And if you're going to a meeting with clients, don't wear jeans and a tee shirt. Match your outfit to the occasion and remember, in business, it's better to err on the side of formality."

    Tuesday, March 13

    A Sweet Sound...

    After a week of hearing Dada, our little baby girl can say Mah-mah! Hooray!

    Banana Crumb Muffins...

    Muffin Ingredients

    1 1/2 cup flour
    1 tsp. baking soda
    1 tsp. baking powder
    1/2 tsp. salt
    3-4 mashed bananas
    3/4 tsp. vanilla
    3 T. applesauce
    1/3 cup oil

    Streusel Ingredients

    1/3 cup brown sugar
    2 T. flour
    1/4 tsp. cinnamon
    1 T. margarine

    1. Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees
    2. In a large bowl, mix flour, baking soda, baking powder, ans salt. In another bowl, combine bananas, sugar, applesauce, oil, and vanilla. Stir banana mixture into the flour combination just until moistened. Spoon batter into greased or papered muffin cups.
    3. In a small bowl, mix together, brown sugar, flour, and cinnamon. Cut in margarine until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. Sprinkle topping over muffins.
    4. bake in a pre-heated oven for 18 - 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of muffins comes out clean.

    Yield: 10 large muffins or approximately 37 mini muffins.

    Coffee Hour...

    Due to a comedy of errors, our family is providing Coffee Hour for two Sundays in a row!

    Here is the menu from this past Sunday:

    Pasta Salad (made with rotini pasta, carrots, celery, cucumbers, grape tomatoes, black olives, artichoke hearts, red onions, and tossed with balsamic vinegarette dressing

    Corn Chips and Salsa

    Hummus and Dipping Pretzels

    Banana Crumb Muffins

    Coffee, Tea, Cherry Seltzer Water, and Grape Juice

    Wednesday, March 7

    Fashion Meme...

    Here is a meme that I wrote this afternoon! I hope that you enjoy it and consider filling it out!

    A: What accessories do you wear everyday? I always put on jewelry and if I go out, I carry my handbag.

    B: What is your beauty routine? In the morning, I brush my teeth, wash my face and moisturize, do my hair (very simply usually), and put on a little makeup. in the evenings, I do the same routine, except no makeup. I try to be flexible with taking showers because our little girl is going through a stage where she is frightened of the sound of the shower. I try to work out a good time for my husband so that he can watch her when I am bathing.

    C: What was the last item of clothing (for yourself) that you purchased? I bought a denim jacket and two white shirts from the Gap outlet near our home.

    D: Do you use a dresser, closet, or both? Both. We have one large dresser that we share. I use the three smallest drawers for unmentionables and accessories. My clothing and shoes go into our closet.

    E: What type of earrings are in your ears right now? I have on white gold dangle earrings. I bought them with one of my first teaching paychecks.

    F: What type of figure do you have? I am very tall with a medium bone structure. I have a little extra fluff left over from being pregnant, too.

    G: Do you wear glasses? No, but I really want to! I was very jealous when hubby needed to get reading glasses a few months ago.

    H: What type of handbag do you carry? I have a chocolate brown Longchamp Pliage bag that I use as a pocketbook and diaper bag.

    I: What is your ideal style? I love the look of the thirties, forties, and fifties. If I was daring, I would wear clothing styled from that time period.

    J: What jewelry are you wearing right now? I have on my dangle earrings, a chain with a Icon pendant of the Mother of God, my wedding band and engagement ring, and two very thin silver oval bangles. I wear these things every day.

    K: Do you wear knee-hi stockings? Nope.

    L: Do you *have* to wear matching lingerie? No, I don't have to. I like to though. Unfortunately, the undergarments I've found for nursing mothers on a budget are less than desirable, never mind matching.

    M: Do you wear makeup? If yes, what products do you use? I only use a few things: concealer in the palest shade possible, blush (I like the cheek stain kinds.. rosy cheeks are my signature look), pale pink eyeshadow, brown-black mascara, and chap-stick.

    N: Do you wear nightgowns? I love to in the spring, summer, and fall, but I've yet to get one that kept me warm in the winter. Instead, I opt for pj bottoms, a tee-shirt, and socks. How's that for feminine?

    O: What outerwear do you put on when going out on a typical winters day? I usually only wear my winter coat and a scarf. I'm not usually outside long enough to need a hat and gloves.

    P: What is your favorite perfume? Red Roses by Jo Malone! Thanks Anna!

    Q: Is your motto "quality over quantity" when it comes to clothing and accessories? Yes. I'd rather have one really well made skirt or shirt over five or six poorly made ones.

    R: Do you wear rain boots? No, but with all of the rain we have been getting and the darling styles for sale, I am seriously considering it!

    S: Do you wear socks or slippers when your feet get cold? I wear socks.

    T: Do you have a set of travel luggage? Sort of. My husband and I each have a leather bag that we bought at Wilson's leather ($30 each!) His is black and mine is brown.

    U: What is your daily uniform? In cold months, a knit skirt and turtleneck and in warmer months a linen or cotton skirt and tee.

    V: If you are married, did you wear a veil with your wedding dress? If not, how did you do your hair? I had a really, really, long veil!

    W: Do you wear a watch? Nope.

    X: What item of clothing always makes you feel eXtremely beautiful? I feel good as long as my baby pooch isn't hanging out!

    Y: What is your favorite type of yarn? It's a toss up between cashmere and pashmina.

    Z: Do you prefer zippers or buttons? I like buttons best because I think that they add interest to clothing!

    Tuesday, March 6

    Feminine Inspiration: Feminine Activities...

    I don't know what the weather's like in your neck of the woods, but here at The Parsonage, it is very cold and windy! The house is creaking as the wind blows and the gusts are even coming down through the chimney!

    The baby and I are bundled up in our toasty house and are planning to eat and drink nice, warm things throughout the day. Since we are missing Papa (who is out ministering to the sick), we are going to have a day of lovely feminine activities! We will be doing baskets of laundry (nothing like things fresh from the dryer to warm one up), bird-watching from the kitchen windows, cooking, tidying, and maybe even bubble bathing! we are even considering the indulgence of watching a long, feminine movie while snuggled under blankets (We'll see if the nine month old is willing to be immobilized for a few hours! Ha!).

    Wherever you are and whatever the weather, do something deliciously feminine with your day! Please leave a comment about your plans... It's wonderful to have fresh ideas!

    Monday, March 5

    Blog Updates....

    If you have any updates for my side bar (blog addresses, good places to shop, femininity in literature and/or movies, etc), leave me a comment and I'll be sure to make the changes as quickly as I can!

    March 4th...

    It's time for another Commitment to Loveliness! This is a fun way to increase femininity and beauty in our lives each week without even trying! All you have to do is choose five things that you would like to work on or do during the week that will increase the loveliness in your life!

    Here is my list for this week:

    1. Prepare some extra food that can be frozen and given to my father-in-law when he comes to visit in a few weeks

    2. Send a care package to my college sister

    3. Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize! My skin is so dry! The way things are looking, this one won't be off my list until the spring!

    4. Visit the local thrift shop and see if there are any treasures awaiting me. Since I've never "thrifted," this will be an adventure! Since I didn't get to do this last week, I am determined to be able to this week!

    5. Use stain remover on the family room carpet to remove some disgusting marks!

    Once you have chosen five simple things, post them on your blog and link to this post in your post, and then post the direct link to your Commitment to Loveliness post below. If you do not have a blog, but have a commitment to share, please post them in the comments section.

    I look forward to reading how others are celebrating their Commitment to Loveliness!

    Friday, March 2

    You can take the teacher out of the classroom...

    ... but you can't take the classroom out of the teacher! Every year that I taught, I would decorate my classroom for the seasons rather than the specific holidays. I have a schedule that I followed very carefully for my decorating: September 1st - all harvest decor went up, December 1st - all winter things went up, and March 1st - Spring decorations went up.

    Since yesterday was March 1st, I gathered up all of our "Let it Snow" banners, snowmen, snowflakes, wintry candles, etc. and put out some spring-like replacements. Now, to get the weather to cooperate with my schedules!
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