June 25, 2013

On An Aristocrat's Bookshelf: Alexandra Stoddard

The lady, herself
If there is one author or lifestyle philosopher with whom I had to identify, I think I would choose Alexandra Stoddard. Mrs. Stoddard started her life as an interior decorator but has expanded into a series of books explaining how to live your life more joyously, to how to decorate your house, to how to have deeper and better relationships with the people in your life.

Her books are especially precious to me because the two that I own were owned previously by my mother and inspired her to decorate the beautiful house that I grew up in. I learned many skills of how to be a gracious entertainer, decent interior designer and generally elegant from my mother. And as I read through Mrs. Stoddard's books I am reminded again and again of aspects from my childhood.

Now, Mrs. Stoddard is a wealthy, white Interior designer in New York from the 80's. From what I can tell, her life was a privileged one and her idea of saving money during college was to skip a lunch on the town so she could by a fresh flower for her dorm room. If only these belt tightening techniques applied to all of us...

Some of her interior decorating advice is dated, some of her lifestyle advice is laughably naive to the complexities of the less affluent world (I'm never going to import notebooks from England, no matter how pretty they might be), but over all her books are full of inspirational advice about making the little things in our life beautiful- even if it requires a little more effort.

She also highlights the importance of putting yourself first in situations. You can't give to others (the end goal) if you do not have any energy or love to give. You must build up your inner resources before you can help others. Must make sure that you are happy and at peace before spreading the happiness and peace to the rest of the world.

Finally, she embraces the small details (the setting of a table, the arranging of fresh flowers, of writing thank yous) as the ultimate goal of humanity. It is through the small acts that the larger ideals are realized. This is a satisfying and unusual sentiment in today's world.

So while Mrs. Stoddard's books and advice do lack some of the raw passion which underlies our world and are occasional impractical even laughable, over all they  give a philosophy of the world that, if not improving the world, certainly does make it a better place. When I read her books I am encouraged to pick up my room, take special effort with my note cards, and be kinder to people. Perhaps I finally found a devotional for myself.

Who acts as your inspiration? Where do you look for strength to go through each day?

June 24, 2013

A Sewing Triumph: My First, Self Drafted Skirt

Last night, I finished my first, self drafted skirt. The origin of this skirt begins many, many years ago. One day my lovely grandmother took my sister, cousin and myself to a fabric store and allowed us to pick out a length of fabric for our own amusement. I was immediately attracted to a beautiful cotton dyed in varigated colors between dark green, rich purple and flame red. (Unfortunately still not possessing a camera, my readers will have to use their imagination. It's beautiful, if that helps.)

For many years, this skirt remained in my closet occasional serving the function of cape, shawl, sari, sarong, or tie skirt. (Yes, I was one of those children who believed getting dressed involved throwing on the first three pieces of clothing at hand. Did I say was?)  Then one day, i decided to make a skirt. After reviewing the items in my closet, I decided, with no drafting experience, to turn it into a skirt.

Unfortunately, I don't remember the exact process. I remember there was a lot of measuring, crawling about on the floor with a piece of chalk, re-measuring, re calculating, redrawing lines and then the first cut! I ended up cutting ten panels and one waistband from the entire length. Serged the edges (my younger self was so meticulous!), sewed reasonably straight seams (amazing what can be done when the fabric is cut smoothly), attached the waist band (mostly), and... forgot about it in my closet for at least three years. Maybe more.

This past spring visit to my house, I rescued the project from my house and finished it up this past weekend. I am pleased with myself: I improvised a pseudo placket from part of the waist band, attached it with four buttons I've had rattling about for the past four years, and tailored the waistband for a good fit. The hem is wonky and a little lopsided; I'll stitch it and try again. Here are some of the things I've learned:

~ Make sure you measure the buttonhole sizes properly. It doesn't matter and isn't noticeable, but I think the buttonhole is a centimeter or two larger than necessary.

~ Buttonholes are addicting.

~ If the hem is uneven, don't just roll up the edges and assume it will all work out. Better to trim off the longer lengths so that it all hems even.

~ Measure your hems. Don't just fold the cloth over twice in what you assume is half an inch.

~ Also pin the hem, even after ironing.  And then measure it to make sure all the edges are the same length.

~ Dress forms make tailoring darts easy. So much easier than trying to measure it on yourself.

~ Sewing really isn't about the exhilaration of finishing a long seam. It is much more about the finishing details, the measuring, and the willingness to unpick and try again when it isn't perfect.

In short, I am pleased. The skirt looks good, actually matches clothes in my wardrobe and I feel comfortable enough to wear it out in public. It was a pretty simple, easy project, but a good one to have drafted myself. But making the earlier walking skirt gave me a good enough command of skirt anatomy to experiment and improvise on this one. Plus, my new dress form is already beginning to pay off.

Have you ever self drafted anything? How did it go? What did you learn?

June 23, 2013

Bizarrely Enough: Thoughts on Makeup.

Now, anyone who knows me or has seen me in real life will find this post a complete surprise. Despite my love of alternative fashion and despite alternative's fashion love, generally, of dramatic makeup, my own relationship to makeup has been juvenile at best.

In the total years of my life, I have bought maybe three items of make up (two mascara and one, terrible pallet of blue eye shadow). Everything else has come as gifts from my more cosmetically gifted sister and cousin.

And yet here I am today to give you not one, not two, but three thoughts on makeup that I would like to share with you.

First, and strangest, a make up review:

In a fit of forgetfulness, I left my latest eyeliner uncapped for... about a week. Needless to say it has dried up, so while in the drugstore looking for a new one, I happened to come across L'Orielle Infallible eye shadow in Slate. Being nothing short of terrible at eyeliner, the smudging brush at the end caught my attention. Even if your line isn't straight or a little spotty, you could just smudge the imperfections away. Plus, it came with a built in pencil sharpener.

My lovely readers, this goes on so smoothly. I can create clean lines on my first attempt, try cat eye and other fancy frills of make up and it looks decent. I've barely needed to use the smudge stick. I'm not sure if it lasts the full 16 hours it claims to, but the pencil sharpener does work wonderfully. It doesn't seem to be very smudge or water resistant though.

In short, the eye liner impressed me enough to mention it on my blog!

Secondly, no picture sorry, I have a tendency to rub my eyes a lot during the day. Yes, I know this is bad for a lot of reasons, but it is especially frustrating when it smudges my makeup beneath  my eyes making me look nothing short of a raccoon. (It's so dark, I don't even get to be a teenage emo kid.)

Soap and water from the bathroom just doesn't clear it up well enough and is really bad for the skin. Just the other day, I had a revelation about makeup: I could put a small bottle of lotion-  like the ones you collect from hotel rooms- in my purse and always have an easy and clean way to remove that makeup mid day.

It's a small life hack, but I'm pleased I was able to solve the little problem.

Finally, I happened across this video recently:

As someone who struggles with the natural vs unnatural debate over makeup, I'm interested in hearing other people's reactions to the message that women don't wear makeup for the rewards (being considered beautiful/ attractive to men) but to avoid punishment. This will probably deserve it's own post at a later date when I have thought of what I think about the situation a bit more.

What are your relationships to make up?

June 17, 2013

Une Petite Pensee: Black Sheets

From Cindy Wright

Black sheets are not as good an idea as they sound.

They are not as black as you think they should be and pick up every little piece of lint, dust or stray hairs and display them to the worst possible advantage. And, if you buy them on sale for $15, they are more plastic than cloth.

Buyer be warned: either invest properly into dark colored sheets or expect to be disappointed.

June 16, 2013

Seven Elegant Lessons: June

Don't be sleeping like these ladies

Elegance is the hallmark of an Aristocrat. It pervades every movement, every word, every gesture. But in the hustle of our day to day lives, it is easy to forget that we must have elegance in the little things as well as the large.

As the sun approaches the Summer Equinox, it rises earlier and earlier each day. The Aristocrat should take this cue from the sun and learn how to rise awake and refreshed each morning. Here are seven lessons to be applied throughout the year  to wake early and begin your day.

~ Keep your curtains, your blinds and, if possible, your windows open. The natural light from the rising sun signals better and more healthily to your brain that it is time to wake.

~ If you wake before your alarm and do not have an hour and a half before it goes off, get up. The sleep you'll sink back into won't be restful, won't complete a full circadian rhythm and will leave your sluggish and groggy. Use the extra time as a gift to read in bed, write in your journal, go for a walk, or take an extra long shower.

~ Do NOT hit the snooze button. I repeat, DO NOT hit the snooze button. You won't be any more rested and will feel stressed for the rest of the day.

~ Keep a glass of water (or water bottle) next to your bed. A great deal of the sluggishness in the morning is actually dehydration. Taking a few sips (or gulps) of water does wonders to jump start your morning.

~ Before jumping in the shower or starting your day, take ten minutes to have some morning exercise, stretching, or  moving routine. Do a few wall push ups. Bend over to touch your toes and just hang for a moment. Do a few sun salutations. A few moves of Tai Chi. The moving banishes the last of that sleepy grogginess and gets your blood flowing.

~ Make your bed every morning. Every. Morning. A made bed is always more inviting than an unmade bed and it makes the room look so much neater.

~ Try not to turn the computer on during your morning. You may intend to check just your blog, but the next half hour is lost and your breakfast dissolves into a banana scarfed on the run.

What are your morning routines?

June 14, 2013

The False Idol of Busyness

"Pensive Woman with Umbrella" Fernard Toussaint

Our modern society is a busy society.

Walk into a modern book store and you are bound to see more books on how to organize your life, your closet, your to-do list, your calendar, your every little thing than books on philosophy or high literature. In our schools and work places, the emphasis is on efficiency and quantity produced. People are constantly being asked to do more with less and are scrambling to catch up.

I am not immune from this lifestyle:
~ I have to do lists (yes, plural)
~ I have calendars and plans three, four months in advance.
~ I get the thrill from crossing another thing off my to-do list (to the point of adding silly things, just to check them off)
~ I indulge in the faux matyrish rush of exclaiming "Oh, I'm just so busy," to questions of my day and seeing the sympathetic nods.

This isn't healthy.

I shouldn't need to say that, but it's true. Our lives should not be a constant theater of stress. We shouldn't delight in our busyness.

So why do we?

We have lost our external sense of identity.

To use myself as a case example:in the past five years, I have moved three times with each move taking me further first from family and then from friends.  The town I live in will be changed in three years time again- or sooner. The acquaintances and connections I've made will be maintained by facebook and email. Finally, I have neither the money nor time to become a regular anywhere or join a set group of people. (Alas the lonely life of the grad student...)

Now, how do I identify myself? After so many moves, I can no longer say that I am from any one state or town. Family identity loses meaning when you rarely seem them and no one knows your relatives. Being an American loses its force when everyone around you is in a similar state. Nor can I turn to religion- the third aspect of the triumvirate of ancient identity- because I am an agnostic at best.

So, how do I identify myself? Well, I have a blog. I love to read. I am a student. I write old fashioned letters. I am learning to sew.  In short, my identity has become the things I use to fill my time. I am a writer, a reader, a student, a penpal, a seamstress. As many different identities as I could want to fill my interests and time.

The more tasks I complete- the more dresses I sew, the more blog posts I write, the more letters I send or receive- the more embedded this identity becomes, the more claim I have to the title. The problem with finding out identities in our activities is that they are terribly fragile. There are, for instance, bloggers out there who sew more than I do ( Madame Mari Mortem ) who sews much more and much, much better than I do. Compared to her, my claim to being a seamstress is called into question. The same comparison can be made with any of the labels with which we identify ourselves.

To compensate, we've begun to over-stuff our schedules to reassure ourselves that we a) are someone and b) have a valid claim to that identification. An afternoon spent watching television or slacking off is considered a waste and I, at least, end up feeling terribly guilty because of it.

I repeat again. This isn't a healthy way to live. We need time to rest, to relax, to waste time. Most great inventions, ideas and inspiration come from an empty afternoon spent tinkering with something that we love rather than crossing off to do lists and drifting through our tightly scheduled day.

We need to let go of a fear of being a no-body. (This is a difficult task that I have only just realized must be done, but have no idea how to go about doing it). We need to empty our schedules and not immediately think of what we can do to fill it up- even with pleasurable activities. Boredom is not the worst think to happen. We are not immoral for not being constantly busy. We are not lazy, we are not unindustrious, we are still going to be happy and get along in life.

How busy are your lives?

June 7, 2013

The Health of Aristocrat: General Principles

Steel engraving of the 1851 Great Exhibition, Crystal Palace Credit: Wellcome Library, London
Steel engraving of the 1851 Great Exhibition, Crystal Palace Credit: Wellcome Library, London

I'll admit, these past few days I have been stumped on how to proceed with blogging about my new goal of living a healthier life. There is so much information out there in the Western canon alone about proper exercise, nutrition, habits, sleep and stress. Much of it contradicts. Much of it applies to only a certain subset of people. Add the eastern medical training I'm receiving and the entire mess simply becomes more complicated.

Rather than attempt to act like the expert I most certainly am not and bring you pearls of healthy wisdom, I'll just mention some of the things I am thinking and doing in my life coupled with a little of what I am learning at school. These will skimp (read forget) much data or scientific references. How does that phrase go? These blog posts are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any affliction or disease. Please see your health care provider for any questions or concerns.

Whew. Getting into the habit of navigating this bureaucracy riddled world of healthcare already.

Here are just a few of the general principles I've come to associate with general health issues. At some point, I may take a post and expand on them, but here they are never the less.

~ For medicine, less is more: Doctors and other health care providers are just people- despite what they may want to think. If you pay however much for a health care visit, there is pressure to prove that it was money well spent and doctors might over diagnose. Also, the general problems of mistakes in the hospital, misdiagnosed pills and medications, and unintended side effects. In general, go for the least invasive care. Nutritionist over pharmacy. Massage over surgery.

~ Variety is the spice of life: Eating too much of the same food can lead to food sensitivity. Exercising in the same way everyday can lead to decreased benefits and damage elsewhere in the body. Since we were made to consume, process, and think in such a varied menagerie of ways, we should do so.

~ Eat food as close to harvesting it yourself as possible:  Minimally processed food is better than more processed food. Fresh food is better than frozen or canned food. Local, organic food is better than the food in your grocery stores. And if you can have a little garden and pick the salad greens you will have for dinner that night yourself? That is even better.

~ Live an active life rather than go to the gym: It really doesn't make sense to me when I see people take an elevator to go to their stair steppers. I realize the appeal of having your metrics flashed before you and being able to chart your progress. But it seems like such a fragile system compared to just making sure you get up and move more each day. Take stairs, rather than the elevator. Do curls with your groceries. Get up and move around the house rather than stay locked to your computer (this one I really, really need to work on)

~ Have a morning routine: Have a morning routine. I don't think it matters if it is push ups, yoga, tai chi, or just stretching. But some sort of daily practice is essential really good to get your body moving again after a night's sleep.

~ Sleep: For something so simple and obvious. It is really sad how little we get.

~ Get outside: Whether it is to be in the sun (very important), to realign your magnetic field with the earth's, to go forest bathing, calm your mind and relax your body. Being outside is essential. We are not made to be locked away in houses and airconditioned rooms.

~ Reduce Stress: The most obvious and most difficult of the principles I think.

Those are some of the health principles I try to live by. The simpler the principle and the more complex and varried its applications, the more truthful it is I think. Do you have any health principles you live with or by?

June 2, 2013

Aesthetic Analysis: Braids

Unfortunately, I don't know who this belongs to either

What? You thought Aesthetic Analysis was just about clothing?

What really arrested me about this photo was the braids. The summer months have arrived and those of alternative lifestyles seem to fall into two camps: those who want to cut their hair and those who want to put it up. I fall into the latter category. 

The Everyday Goth has a lovely resource for historical hair styles to stave off summer heat. This is one more to add to the repertoire. It is a basic Hedie braid, but unlike other examples I've seen it appears more elegant and mature than your typical German child skipping through the Alps. 

In part I think it is the thickness of the braid which centers the look. It would take a wealth of hair to have a braid that thick to wrap around your head, but it gives a weight to the hairstyle which many others I've seen lack. But the strands falling from the braid add a touch of inefficiency and whimsy to what could be a very strict look. 

I'll be trying this hairstyle later in the summer. It might even be able to hold up to a bike helmet.

June 1, 2013

Challenge Update 2: Good Goth Keeping, Summer Reading, Better Health

It is that time again: a quick challenge update to usher in the month of June.

Fernard Toussaint
Good Goth Keeping

Rather than focus on these in order, I'll post as complete a list as I have complied and annotate each of them.

1. Assess your physical baggage and the psychological will follow.

My room is progressing slowly. In the past month I've:
~ Put away all my winter cloths and switched fully to my summer wardrobe
~ Organized my tea shelf and drank some of the remaining tea. 
~ Cleaned off the back of my closet door (ie, hung winter coats in the closet)
~ Put far more new projects in the project bin than taken them out. (Hopefully this will inverse itself this month. At last: two free weekends!)

Conclusion: I'm slowly working my way though the clutter. It's pleasant to be in my room now and I am keeping it pretty clean and organized. 

Goals: Clean out the bottom of my closet to rescue the desperately needed AC unit. Work through more projects in my project bin. Keep the room clean.

2. Write something everyday

This will be my biggest goal this next month. My pile of unanswered correspondence is piling up on my desk and in my email. I didn't realize the psychic strain it had on me until two days ago I sat down and ran through a few emails that had been hanging about my head. Once they were finished, I felt so free and light. 

This month, I will write a little bit on a letter every day until I can cut through my stack of correspondence. 

3. Self-forgiveness

I'll discuss this in the Summer Reading.

4. Read your label.

This is being mulled over. Expect a post on labels at some point.

5. Ask for Help

I actually have been using this tip a bit in the past month. Without going into the details, Eco is completely correct. Asking for help, frankly, helps. People are far more willing to lend aid than I believed. If I could add one thing to this idea it is:

Don't think that your problems don't deserve being helped. 

6. Go and do something

I'm lucky enough to be in a place in my life where I am doing everything I want to be. 

7. Sleep, Eat, Rest

Check, check, check!

Thomas Wilmer Dewing "Before the Mirror"
Summer Reading Challenge

And here is where the forgiveness portion comes in. 

Technically, I have been reading far in excess of 30 hours a week. However, nearly all of that reading has been of the school variety. Which means a greater number of all those lovely books I checked out from the library are still sitting by my bed begging to be read. 

In an attempt to inspire myself to read more, I joined beeminder (this will be a blog post in itself) and promptly failed little more than two weeks later.

Rather than beat myself up about this though, I let it go and forgave myself.  I am not reading as much as I hoped to be, c'est la vie. I've still found some very good authors. I've been busy and school has been difficult. It is Ok if I don't stay directly on a self appointed goal. 

It was a very freeing experience.

Annie Rosie Laing "A Helesburg Breakfast"
 An Aristocrat's Health

This is a new challenge, inspired by Underground for Tea's Goth on a Diet goal and a chance for me to discuss my views on health, fitness and more. The actual Challenge will be to lose five pounds by October. Less through any strict diet and more through portion control, eating healthier and, most importantly, getting up and exercising more.

How are other people's challenges going?