Monday, May 31, 2010

Chic Mentors

I feel most chic when I am well-turned out, healthy and vibrant, and kind. This may be a different definition to the haughty and aloof high-fashion Parisian girl, and I am happy to have my own idea of what chic means. I came to this conclusion when thinking through my list of chic mentors - women I have met over the years who I've thought 'I'd like to be like you'.

One, a customer named Jeanne, is very tall, medium- to slender-build and aged around late 50s. She dresses very elegantly for her job in an interiors show-room just down the road, quality clothing but always with a little twist. She wears trousers often, slightly loose sort of Diane Keaton style, with blouses or tops and the most beautiful chunky pink-toned pearls. She has a silver bob, but it's her demeanour that I most enjoy when I cross her path.

She has a serene manner and speaks softer, slower and lower than others. Her energy is muted but has strength. You could never push her around but she isn't aggressive. I can imagine her simply walking away if she didn't like a situation, or giving someone a look. I often channel this woman if people are getting on my nerves or being cheeky. You would never be cheeky to Jeanne. She simply wouldn't allow it.

A woman I used to work with, Kristina, is an inspiration to me for different reasons. She was the master at handling men. When our boss would be driving me mad and I could barely contain myself, she would laugh him off and jolly him along. She never once showed anger or even annoyance.

She also never told you anything she didn't want to share. I still think of her as having a mystique. Her and her husband did not have children and when I knew her I was early 30s to her early 40s. I was thrilled to be invited around to dinner one night. It was just the three of us, and I got to see inside her home. It was immaculate as I knew it would be. Lovely, very classic furniture, everything spic and span and clutter free.

Christine had a very vibrant and sparky energy. What I take from her is the mystery aspect, and the French-inspired way she had of handling men. I think she even used to pout!

One of our sales representatives, Martine, is an inspiration to me also. She has sons in their 20s. I enjoy hearing little snippets about her life, because she doesn't let it all hang out at once. She is always well-groomed and has youthful, stylish clothing. Even though her style is a little 'mod' for me, I always enjoy seeing what she will wear, and look forward to our appointments.

I'm ashamed to say I always tidy and clean the office before she comes, because I think to myself 'Martine won't want to show us her samples when it's messy and the floor hasn't been mopped'. I really do! I honestly don't think that about any other representative we see. When she speaks I want to listen, and I think it's the way she is - calm but fun, softly spoken and listens well.

My final chic mentor for now is a customer called Shannon. She is in her mid 30s and has two pre-school children. Despite having a high-flying career overseas, she is the most down-to-earth and sweetest person you would ever speak with. Her husband still is high-flying (in an industry which is famed for arrogance and superiority) and he is also lovely.

Despite the demands of two small children, whenever she shops with us she looks slender, well-groomed and glamorous. She dresses for her role as a stay at home mother - fitting jeans (skinny leg), little ballet flats or canvas Keds and a floaty, long t-shirt top. Her hair is long and either down, or in a high pony-tail and she wears subtle makeup to give her a fresh, glowing look.

I rung one day to let her know an item she had ordered had arrived in. It was late on a Saturday morning. Her husband said 'can I take a message, she's in the bath'. I immediately imagined her in the bath soaking with the door closed, going through her grooming regime while her husband looked after the children, before stepping out fragrant, smooth and serene.

I thought if I ever have children I would like to be like this. I see lots of happy, nicely put-together young mums in our store, but I also see frazzled and frumpy ones, where the kids run riot. I wonder if you get to choose what type you are going to be?

One thing all these women have in common - they are all very feminine in both their appearance and the way they carry themselves. I can't imagine any of them swearing much, or getting too drunk, or sitting on the sofa chomping on a large-size cake of chocolate.

Noting down what it means to me to be chic, I kept coming back to kindness.

Being kind to yourself
Kind to other people you come across
Kind to children
Kind to animals and pets

It doesn't mean being weak or a pushover or letting people boss you around. I think kindness shows strength and generosity.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

First Week Report

A week has passed since my 'revolutionary' decision to eat real food chicly, and not diet. I am very happy with the progress I have made so far. I have felt very calm and relaxed towards food and drink and made good decisions most of the time.

My weight has reduced by 500g (just over one pound) in this week, so I am very pleased to be slowly moving in the right direction while leading a 'normal' eating life.

I am not concerned with quick weight loss which is so addictive with WW. I could easily lose every two days what I took a week to lose this time. I have eaten some treat foods and also a small amount of faux food which I think is fine.

I am happy to be this weight and continue to eat well. It will balance up in its own time. Librans like myself are big on finding their balance - the scales is our symbol - tip too far one way or the other feels off balance and out of sorts. Our thing is all about finding our equilibrium. I really have felt more balanced this week than I have in a long time.

I was also out of town staying with my Mother for three days, and in that time ate out more than normal. Cafe lunches, coffee and cake, dinner etc. It was fabulous to feel guilt-free. If I was dieting, I would be worried that I wouldn't be able to stick to low-calorie food so just think 'blow it, I'll eat everything and start again next week'. I will think this no more.

Even when I slipped back into faux food habits a couple of times, those few slips did not mean descending into junk food hell, rather I just dipped into them and out again, back to normal, good food.

I felt great relief at not having to go back to points, and felt more relaxed and more stable in my eating habits. Less schizophrenic if you like (on points/super strict, off points/eat and drink all I can before I go back to 'jail').

I naturally chose low-calorie/high nutrition food for lunch a couple of times at work when I had nothing else organised. I could have had home-made pizza from the freezer, but instead I felt I needed something more nutritious and less 'cloggy' (I had a sinus headache for a couple of days and felt dreadful) and chose a small tin of flavoured tuna, rice cakes, raw celery and carrot diced, with an apple for after. This really is unheard of for me if not on WW points - to actually choose a meal like this.

A book I was reading at Mum's said of alcohol, even though it is extremely high in calories, the body cannot store them (that's why alcoholics are thin). It's the high-fat foods you snack on or the sugary fizzy mixers you use with alcohol which cause the weight gain, as these are stored straight away because your body is using the alcohol energy. And even worse, this fat is stored around the middle of your body. My worst spot.

So that really reinforced my decision to choose wine and low-fat or no snacks (of course no drink at all would be the best but I'm not a saint).

A newspaper article I read during the week said that eating lots of fruit and vegetables gives your skin a glowing, golden appearance after just 30 days. I'm all for that and have been adding more fruit and raw vegetables into my day. I already eat a good amount of cooked vegetables (steamed brocolli, cauliflower, beans etc with olive oil drizzled over, and a roast potato, sometimes pumpkin).

I had a gin and tonic and some potato chips at my Mum's, and actually didn't enjoy it that much. I would have been happier with a glass of wine and no snacks. Could it be that after all these years I am finding my natural appetite?

I know one week isn't long, and it's easy to be enthused at the start. It actually is my biggest fear that I go back to how I was. Slow and steady wins the race I think though.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Postcard from Paris

I read the following essay a few nights ago and have been popping back to re-read it since. It's from the book 'Younger by the Day - 365 ways to rejuvenate your body and revitalise your spirit' by Victoria Moran. She has a very gentle and dreamy way of writing which, to be honest, I'm not always in the mood for. But when I am, it's great.

And because I'm approaching 40 later on this year, it spoke to me (Victoria turned 50, but it was still a milestone birthday that makes you think about Everything).


'I don’t think it was accidental that I ended up in Paris just as I was trying to learn to make the most of being fifty. The French make art out of life, an art easily observable to anyone looking. They effortlessly turn simplicity into style, and look fabulous despite all those buttered baguettes and chocolate croissants. There are theories aplenty about how they can do this and largely avoid obesity and heart disease. I side with the appreciation theory. The French appreciate beauty: the beauty of art, architecture, a fresh-faced mademoiselle, an elegant mature woman, or a fine meal.

When it comes to dining, it is about taking time, seeing the food, smelling it, savouring it. This means putting your knife and fork down between bites so you can feel the textures in your mouth and discern the flavours on your tongue. It means never again consuming anything while standing up or on the run, because you’re worth more than that. So is the person who prepared the food and the time spent doing it.

It is refraining from inferior food because quality is a key value in your life as a whole. In food, quality shows itself in produce that’s fresh and crisp and bright, bread that was kneaded by human hands and baked this morning, and entrees skillfully prepared and presented. In dining like a French woman, you eat sensible portions, because quality satisfied in a way quantity never could. You rarely eat between meals – why spoil your appetite? – or while watching tv – why dilute your attention?

This attitude can carry over into every aspect of life: a few wonderful pieces of clothing, tailed to fit and painstakingly cared for; rooms that may be cosy or elegant but invite you in either way; days evenly invested in work, love, and leisure, with love and leisure seldom slighted for the sake of success.

For most of us, such a change in sensibilities is no small undertaking, but it can be done, and you don’t have to move to Paris. If you’re so overly scheduled that you not only eat on the run but put on your makeup, return calls, and write thank-you notes that say too, slash your schedule. The sky won’t fall and your star will surely rise.'


I agree with 'slash your schedule' too. My favourite thing to do when I'm frazzled and think I have so much to do, is really, really look at what I have to do and only do the essentials. Other things can wait. Then go and wash my face and take myself off to bed early, with a book like this one. Ridiculously early like 8.30pm or maybe 9pm. A nice long read and there's still time for lots of sleep. Delicious.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Written Up

I wrote this last year after reading somewhere 'Imagine having a magazine article written about you. What would it say?' Here's what mine might say... I would love to read yours too. Might I add, this is my dream magazine interview, not real life now, perhaps real life later. You never know your luck.

I am meeting Fiona X., best-selling author for coffee and cake at a chic French cafĂ© near her city home. A long-time Francophile, Fiona has made her passion her living. Having written 7 novels, some set in Paris, Fiona, her husband and their two children are enjoying the fruits of her imagination. She also does the bookwork for the couple’s successful retail store (open for eight years now).

When Fiona and her sweetheart married four years ago, they skipped a honeymoon in order to get back to the business they ran together (without any other staff at that stage) 7 days a week. She would joke she only wanted to honeymoon in Paris and was prepared to wait, even if it meant any children they had would have to come too. They have now been to Paris twice together, once by themselves and once en famille.

Paris is the city where, Fiona says, she feels most herself. And when she can’t be there, she creates a French feeling, in her books, with music, candles, furnishings, clothing, food and wine.

On this chilly late Autumn day (her favourite season she says, for the changeable weather and dark skies) I spot Fiona walk in, serenely confident and self-assured. She is chic and feminine, and has an aura of kindness surrounding her.

Fiona is dressed in long dark indigo denim slightly boot legged jeans, with a knee length fitted navy coat in a type of velour. She wears charcoal-grey leather boots under her jeans; they have a medium height slender heel. At her neck is wrapped a creamy coloured fine cashmere scarf tied in a French looking way and a camel coloured beret pulled down over her long, caramel blonde hair, which has been dried straight-ish with a slight wave at the ends. A long, wispy fringe is swept to one side.

Fiona joins me and orders a black coffee and a mineral water from the pretty waitress. I begin by complimenting Fiona on her books’ success and letting her know how much I have enjoyed reading and re-reading them

Part chick-lit (or chic-lit), part modern fiction, part self-help and part style guide, Fiona’s writings have created a new cross-over genre and gathered thousands of fans world-wide – even in France, the home of her mentor – the French woman.

‘Yes, that was a funny surprise for me to find out how much French girls enjoyed my work,’ says Fiona with a laugh, ‘my latest book tour took me to Paris and Marseille in France, as well as other European cities and London’.


The second time I meet with Fiona is at the home she shares with her family. They live in a desirable part of town, overlooking the sea. I pull up at the gates, which are open, and park on the street. I walk up the crushed shell driveway, passing neat lawns edged with buxus hedging. In the centre of the lawn is a water feature edged in old bricks. It is long and narrow with three large concrete spheres sitting in the water. Lily-pads float alongside.

The couple’s house is very French looking, in grey concrete with square-paned windows set in fine black metal frames. Grey wood shingles decorate the dormers, and a tiled roof completes the French look. It has a look of Paris to the materials, but is the kind of country house you would build outside of the city for the weekends.

Fiona welcomes me in through the heavy oak door, which has a round handle set into the middle of it. It is bigger than a normal front door, and has a great solidity to it. I walk through the vestibule, hanging up my jacket and scarf. Fiona urges me not to remove my shoes. In the entrance hall a circular table sits in the middle. It is covered in a dark, wide-striped taffeta, in tones of licorice, moss green and the yellowy-orange of a Veuve Cliquot label. Centred on the table is a glass vase spilling beautifully scented white lilies.

A rangy black miniature poodle comes skittering in, sniffs my outstretched hand and runs off again. Then a second, grey coloured one runs through. The room is lovely and warm, and I realise the floor tiles are heated. Fiona shows me through to the living room, where we curl up on oversize sofas in a deep tobacco coloured, tweedy-textured microfibre fabric, which is so soft on your skin. I can see through to the library, located off the living room. In this, the living room there is an open fire flanked by two tall, narrow windows. Fiona’s husband enjoys setting and lighting the fire each evening, and the whole family relax here after dinner.

Fiona’s library room is her favourite space for alone time, built-in shelves line the walls, and her writing desk is set up in front of the window, overlooking the symmetrical garden. On the only wall not lined with books, hang two antique French tapestries of street scenes in threads coloured taupe, beige and cocoa.

The children Luc (3) and Carine (2) are brought in to say hello, and then set down to play with their toys and books in front of the fireplace. Around the fire there is a little metal fence, topped with padded leather, perhaps for sitting on? It also serves as a safety barrier for children and poodles (Jean-Paul and Chloe).

I spend another hour chatting with Fiona and absorbing her life. As I leave into the cool evening, I can't but help wish she was a friend of mine. I think I'd like that.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Fifi Project

In 2004 I discovered the world of French Chic via a few different resources. Firstly I came across Anne Barone's wonderful Chic & Slim website. I ordered her books - my favourites of which are the first three - 'Chic & Slim', 'Chic & Slim Encore' and 'Techniques No. 1'. I have read these countless times since they arrived in my mailbox and I continue to be inspired six years later.

My next most influential resource was the Yahoo group 'French Chic'. I used to visit this forum daily and gathered so many inspiring posts and quotes that I also re-read regularly.

I have dipped into my French Chic books and printouts periodically over the years, and am revisiting them in more depth at the moment. I have had some changes happen in my life and so the normal routine is thrown. At times like this all chic flies out the window and I comfort eat and drink and the resulting tight clothing is horrid.

One cannot feel chic and capable when one struggles to button ones jeans. So this is the first area I will be looking at. I have no problem being thrifty and frugal because I look at these things as fun, and debt and overspending is for losers (harsh as that sounds). If only I looked at overeating in the same way.

Just as it is unchic to be buried under credit card debt from unstoppable shopping, so is it unchic to be physically buried under the results of indiscriminate eating and drinking. A chic diet is my goal.

I want to look good in the clothing I already own and I want to feel fabulous in my skin and be inspired to look after myself. I know you aren't meant to measure yourself by weight, but weight is where I can keep a track of myself easily and it works for me. At my height of 169cm (5'6½") I don't feel great at 71.2kg (157 pounds, BMI 24.9) which is what I am right now. I would like to have my weight range be 63-66kg (139-145 pounds, BMI 22.1-23.1).

I can achieve this quite quickly using Weight Watchers points, and I may do this, but the trouble with points is I'm either on them or off them. Which means my weight goes up and down. I would like to try the European eating way once again and lose it slowly by changing habits. I've read about it so often over the years in various books and magazines, but this time I think I'm ready for it.

I want to eat real food that nourishes and satisfies me. I want to stop eating when I'm full. I want to be a food snob! I understand that junky food never satisfies or nourishes and that is why I cannot stop eating it once started. My physical body needs me to look after it.

Years ago I wrote to Anne Barone to thank her for sharing her information in her books and on her website, and told her how a no-carb diet had been a dismal failure for me (I only lasted 24 hours before I felt weak and dizzy). She responded that 'The body just wants the kind of balance of foods it has had for thousands of years'.

On a special anniversary dinner out a while back my husband and I had a cocktail at a bar before we went to the restaurant. Along with our cocktails the waiter brought us a tiny dish of olives - about 4-5 of them. I remember thinking this was so stylish and the olives were delicious. So this morning I walked to a nearby gourmet food store and chose a small jar of olives. I tasted a few different ones before I bought them. I discovered I like olives that are 'crisp' rather than soft, and without added flavours like blue cheese or pimentos. They are in brine rather than oil.

Tonight with my pre-dinner drink, rather than have a brandy and ginger ale with a bowl (or two) of potato chips, I will sip on a glass of wine and have a tiny dish of olives. Don't get me wrong, I will really miss my brandy and dry, and chippies, but they often ruin my appetite for dinner and it's only a habit after all.

If I was the French woman of my dreams (named Delphine, or Sabine) I would most certainly nibble on a couple of olives and pour a glass of chilled Chardonnay (my favourite wine varietal) as I recline in my Paris apartment with a book, and my Le Crueset bubbling on the stove. I do best by being inspired by daydream situations that others may think silly. By pretending I am that person I am inspired to do better.
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