Sunday, August 29, 2010

A Peaceful Bedroom

I did a mini-makeover on our bedroom a couple of nights ago. After reading about bedroom feng shui I was itching to change things around a little and have a good clean. Here’s what I did:

- Moved the bed here and there (so I could get under it), and vacuumed just about every loop of carpet in the room, and the corners and edges. That always ‘feels’ nice afterwards.
- Moved some containers of books which were behind the door to another room.
- Removed a few things from under the bed so there are now three containers at the foot end (containing hair dryer and GHDs etc, scarves and bags).
- Pinned up a canopy of natural coloured fabric above our bed.
- Put away the browsing/boudoir books that were stacked on my bedside table. Now only my current reading book is there. My browsing books are all on our main book shelf in the living room.

Our bedroom is pretty much as I want it, given the constraints of the room and the fact we live in a rental property. I’m so thankful the entire house is painted a soft off-white, including the ceilings and beams. It gives a very fresh look so we have a good blank canvas.

Anyone who knows even a tiny bit about feng shui knows beams are not good news, and especially beams above the bed. We also have a slanted ceiling on two sides in both bedrooms. Slanted ceilings and beams are not good separately let alone together.

The slanted ceilings 'press' down on you as you sleep and the beams ‘chop’ into you. I decided to create a canopy over our bed which still doesn’t make the situation ideal, but helps out somewhat.

I may have a look at getting some white, filmy, cotton muslin instead if it doesn't cost too much. I think this would look lovely and airy draped across most of the width of the ceiling. I could almost pretend I was India Hicks living her idyllic island life.

Being the shrewish wife that I am, I made my husband drag home the stepladder from work and then found I could achieve what I wanted to by standing on the bed. Thankfully he stowed the stepladder in our car the next morning without saying a word.

With excess possessions removed, a good spring-cleaning and the billowy canopy our bedroom feels new and fresh, and like the retreat from the world that it should be.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Countdown to 40

In a few months I will turn forty. I'm very happy to be going into the next decade. I feel like I'm already 'getting a good run at it' (as my husband says) with starting this blog and working out how 'chic' is defined in my life.

One thing that is still bothering me though, and which I've sat back and had a think about, is my figure. I stopped posting my Chic Eating updates as it was stressing me out. Saturdays came around very fast and what if that week hadn't been particularly noteworthy?

So I relaxed and thought to myself, how can I change this. Still no to Weight Watchers, it's too strict for me, but giving myself free rein is a recipe for disaster. I sat down a week ago and drew up some 'guidelines' for the way I want to live, to enable me to slim down slowly and quietly.

My guidelines are not a diet, and there are no quantities listed. Here they are (I've called them Countdown to 40, just for fun) -

Sunday to Thursday – alcohol-free nights
Friday night – Bubbly Friday (we've had Bubbly Friday for years)
Saturday night – snacks and drinks

- This means I've cut down drinks to two nights a week (from probably 5-7 nights, even one glass of wine each evening adds up to a lot of calories) and I only eat snacks one night a week. I've decided I would rather have some camembert and crackers than potato chips, but if I want potato chips that's fine too, only on Saturdays.

Salad with lunch every day
Vegetables with dinner every night

Protein at every meal, eg:
- Egg with breakfast
- Tuna with lunch
- Lean meat or fresh fish with dinner

One piece of fresh fruit every day

If I crave something sweet after a meal – 1-2 squares dark chocolate
If I crave savoury snacks, a small amount of rice crackers and cheese

Early nights – in bed by 9.30pm at the latest, preferably 9pm, to give plenty of boudoir time for reading and moisturising before lights out at 10pm.

Green tea first thing in the morning with blog time (6am)
Drink water all day

Two yoga classes per week
Three one hour walks per week (two included to and from yoga)

I have to say, having my guidelines has really helped me stay on track and have a balanced week with plenty of nutrition and good sleep. I started out by writing down what my perfect week would look like and added things as I thought of them.

I also like that they are not just about food, but incorporate lifestyle habits to aim for as well. I am still using my Chic Eating principles most of the time too (I can have anything I like as long as it is 'Chic' and 'Real').

If I ever feel like slacking off, maybe pouring a glass of wine on a Wednesday, I remember my Countdown to 40 list and I feel newly remotivated. I also have the Word document open on my laptop most of the time, so I see it whenever I'm on the computer.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Boudoir Time

Anne Barone of the fabulous Chic & Slim book series mentions that chic French women take regular ‘boudoir time’. This means withdrawing to their boudoir to take stock, recharge, have quiet time alone.

My version of boudoir time is to go up to our bedroom after dinner but before bedtime. The bed is made and tidy, with pillows and cushions arranged in a pleasing way. All laundry is in the hamper, clothes are hung up and put away.

I turn the bedside lamps on so there is a soft glow rather than the overhead light and spend 30-60 minutes or even longer reading. Often on my stomach or on my side laid out across the whole bed with either an old Victoria magazine (the French issues please) or some printed out French Chic group/blog posts bound in a clear-file folder.

A glass of water or herbal tea is on the bedside table. Sometimes I will have a facial mask on, sometimes not, just a freshly washed face with night cream sinking in.

This time is a very relaxing prelude to drifting off to sleep.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Importantance of a Shopping List

I had another style revelation. That’s two in one week! All my reading must be sinking in. But it’s not enough to read about it apparently, I marinate it in my head and then the lightbulb eventually goes on and I think I’ve thought of it first.

My ‘problem’ is this (and if that’s my biggest problem in life I’m doing OK). I walk into a clothing store, there are hundreds if not thousands of garments everywhere, and I become overwhelmed. The colours, the styles, the choice of pieces... I don’t know where to start, end up browsing the sale rack, buy something identical to what I already own and go home.

Or buy no clothing and purchase a candle or some hand-cream because it’s easy, I always use them and I can never have too many (they are consumable). So now I have a hand-cream ban until I use up the ten tubes and pots I have.

Yesterday in the city I visited our lovely, old yet modern department store and because they are having their half-yearly sale it seems nearly everything is 50% off. I stared at the sea of racks with their big red sale signs, couldn’t think where to start then turned and walked away.

I couldn’t face going through all those hangers. It would have taken me hours (and I only had about thirty minutes before I wanted to head back to work). And then there is all the trying on. And do I really need anything anyway?

On my way out, after spraying myself with Estee Lauder Pleasures and putting on some organic Rose handcream (one must always make the most of walking through a department store) I understood what I have been told before. I need to know what I am looking for before I go shopping.

It’s no different to grocery shopping. Imaging going into a big, bright, busy supermarket with no clue what you need. You would be overwhelmed by the huge array of goods on offer. With a list, it’s easy.

I remembered I heard this advice from Trinny and Susannah when they toured here last year. Their main rules for shopping are: Make a list of what you want to get before you go out shopping. Look in your wardrobe and make a list. Work out your budget. Work out how much money you have. Think ‘what is it I can never find in my wardrobe that I need’.

All I can really think of now that I would like is a crisp white shirt, very tailored with French cuffs perhaps. One that fits me correctly across the shoulders and doesn’t pull across the bust.

And I also am wondering if white is the best colour for me. Even though I love the look, it can be too harsh for my colouring. Winter white is better for me but who ever heard of a crisp winter white shirt? Then I wondered if perhaps I could do pinstripes instead of plain white: white/cream, white/grey or white/pale blue.

I want to go to a specialist shirt/suit tailoring shop for this, and I am saving the money for it. This is the type of thing you don’t find in an end of season sale.

Once I realised/remembered the shopping list thing, I felt quite relieved. I don’t need to wade through all the clothes in all the stores in all the suburbs. I feel calm, and in control. Exhale.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Two-Colour Rule

After reading about the ‘two colour rule’ last month, I have limited myself to two colours in outfits recently. Of course I have more than two colours in my wardrobe, but to only wear two in one outfit.

Because one of my main wardrobe staples is blue jeans, one of those two colours has to be navy, or grey-blue.

Even though I have some favourite three-colour combos (grey/denim/tan accessories, grey/denim/black), I have to admit I did feel quite chic in the two-colour ones I tried lately. ‘Elegant restraint’ as was said in the book excerpt in my How to be Wealthy post.

I wore jeans with a navy v-neck RL fine cotton knit top and beige high heels and a beige trench-coat (which I would like to add that I bought at Galaries Lafayette in Paris, just to show off). Accessories-wise I wore a chunky gold necklace and a beige/tan/gold bag.

Another time in the two-colour clothing diary I wore jeans, black heeled boots and a grey-blue v-neck cotton/silk jersey. You may notice a pattern forming. Actually my second example wasn’t two colours I’ve just realised. I also wore a classic Burberry print silk scarf I bought in Thailand (faux Burberry, real silk).

My other wardrobe staple for everyday wear is beige pants. I have cotton drill ones and dressier ones in a sort of floppy/thick viscose/linen mix. This gives me a break from having to choose blue as one of my two colours.

In the French inspiration post some of us were discussing how the two-colour rule works as it seemed a bit limiting. I even asked my French beauty therapist about it but she hadn’t heard of it. She did say French women are more classic in their dress than New Zealand women though.

I then had a thought that the two-colour rule could apply to clothing items only. Accessories which include scarves, belts and shoes are not included (within reason).

This made me think of The Vivienne Files on the French Chic yahoo group. She had a limited colour palette in her wardrobe of black, white, grey and red but added interest and colour with her collection of brightly coloured scarves (in tones to suit her complexion). Et voila, I think I’ve cracked it.

When I think about my wardrobe (and also my dream wardrobe), I will mostly wear only two colours in my clothing, but maybe twist it a little with shoes or a scarf.

This has given me new focus on wardrobe planning. I’m going through my clothing at the moment with The Vivienne Files at my side, well actually my whole Personal Style folder of articles and posts.

If you aren’t a member of the French Chic yahoo group, go join and have a look in the files section – La Mode – The Vivienne Files. It’s free to join and if you’re reading this blog I’m sure you’ll enjoy the French Chic group.

The group member who initially shared her French friend Vivienne's style philosophy has her own blog; it's fabulous.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Chic Mentors

Adding to my list of chic mentors which I profiled here, may I present you with two new ones.

Firstly meet Janey, a customer of our shop whom I’ve met a couple of times in the past years, but have had quite a lot to do with in the last few weeks.

Janey is an interior designer (but a real one with a passion for design, not a rich wife one with a put-on posh accent. You can just tell). She is in her early fifties and part of her look is Converse All-Stars. From that you would think she tries to dress young (as Adrienne covered wonderfully recently). But no, she wears gorgeous, sophisticated clothing, mostly pants, with quietly expensive looking tops and often a chic coat or jacket. She wears long, fine-knit scarves too, looped casually around her neck with the ends down.

A while back she asked me to let her know when we received any Converse in brown, olive or green shades. Here in New Zealand we don’t get the huge range of colours that are always available in the US. Our tiny population is less than the size of one city in a bigger country, so this is why.

We received in some ‘vintage brown’ All Stars which even had subtle cream rubber/laces compared with the bright white of most other colours. I thought these would be just her style, so I emailed Janey to say some had arrived in store. She said she would call in at some stage to take a look at them (a bit non-committal, and that’s fine, it was months since she had left a note in our customer book) and I thought nothing more of it.

I remember thinking how picky and difficult she was when she first came into our shop. Not because she was unpleasant though. I now realise she was being selective, a la Vivienne of ‘The Vivienne Files’ fame at the French Chic yahoo group. None of the approximately 20-30 colours of All Stars were good enough for her, and that’s when she asked me to let her know if we ever got any in earth tones in.

She came in to see the brown ones one night last week. It was ten minutes before we closed and a rainy, dark night. She had battled the traffic to get to us and when I went to get her size to try on, it was the only size we didn’t have. I didn’t want to go back out to the shop to face her! I had totally wasted her time and I felt terrible. Even worse, when I checked the Converse stock list it seemed there were none left in her size in the country.

She couldn’t have been nicer about it and said she would come another time. The next morning I found out that we did in fact have a couple of pairs in her size, in an overflow stock area. I emailed her again and told her about my faux pas. She really was so gracious and kind when it was her being mucked around, that it inspired me to be more that way.

She came in this week, same time, ten minutes before closing. She comes in after work finishes for the day and not on weekends as it seems she leaves the city on Thursday night for her home in the country and returns to the city on Monday. Doesn’t that sound lovely? She may well be, but she doesn’t give off the aura of being mega-rich. With her appearance and her demeanour she more whispers ‘I choose my ideal life and live it the best way I can with the resources I have’. I could be wrong, she may totally be a millionaire though, you just can't tell (which I think is rather nice).

What I am most inspired about by this latest chic mentor, apart from the fact of her calm and gentle understanding is the way she comports herself. She is fun in a soft way, she keeps a slight distance but is very personable. I can’t imagine anyone blabbing away in her yoga class. And if they did she might not even notice.

Her personal style is great too. Working in the interior design industry she clearly has an eye for colour, and she carries this through to the clothing she wears. She doesn’t just buy what’s available at the time, even if she needs something, she will wait until just the right thing comes along.

Her clothing style was quite classic in a casually sophisticated way. And of course she was slender. I definitely don’t see her watching 2½ Men with a bag of potato chips in her hand. She would likely forget to nibble at all before dinner and maybe sip on half a glass of wine or sparkling mineral water.

My second new chic mentor is a man – bet you didn’t expect that. His name is Niko and he’s a sales representative who has been visiting us with various shoe ranges since our shop opened almost six years ago.

I know you’re probably thinking ‘does this girl meet anyone that isn’t a sales rep or a customer?’ Maybe, or maybe not. We do work a lot at the moment, so I tend to see more people who are customers or suppliers. I don’t have a lot of time to join sports clubs or organisations. To tell you the truth I’m not a big team/group person anyway, even if I had all the time in the world.

But onto Niko. As I said he’s a sales rep. He is very Italian-looking and comes from an Italian family but I believe he was born here in New Zealand. He certainly has a New Zealand accent rather than an Italian one.

I met he and his wife a while back out of work at a dinner hosted by friends who also own a shoe shop. His wife brought along the biggest and most lush salad I had ever seen and I heard them both talking to people about enjoying healthy food. As a comparison one of the other wives, who is solidly overweight and quite a negative and manipulative person brought along a killer cheesecake - and declared she couldn't eat it as it was too rich for her. I remember thinking I know which one I want to be like!

Recently Niko was in our store showing us his shoe samples. It was a Friday and he popped next door to buy himself some lunch. He bought a vegetarian sub sandwich and a fruit smoothie and, when finished, patted his stomach and said ‘aah, that will keep me going until dinner-time’ (no snacking then, I thought to myself).

Niko is probably in his early 50s and he is very slim – no sign of a paunch on this man. He is also very well dressed in a Euro way. Always quite casual, he’s not in suits when he visits us. The other day he wore slim/straight fitting jeans but in a washed-out burnt ochre colour, with tan slip-on dress shoes and a black long-sleeve t-shirt (which had a charcoal/mid-grey t-shirt underneath, you could see a tiny bit of it at the neck).

He’s not trying to dress particularly young, but he certainly looks youthful and European, in an age-appropriate way. He’s a lot of fun, tells a great story and would be loyal and trustworthy too. He told us he is working a few days here and there at our friends’ shoe store to both give them a break and earn some extra money.

At one stage he was saying to my husband how he and his wife chose to live the European way, following his family heritage from the old country. Sadly I was in the shop at the time or I would have (subtly) picked his brains.

When I said to my husband Niko must live a nice life, he said straight away ‘he isn’t rich at all’. I already knew he had been let down by some people he worked with and this affected him financially. Regardless he always carries on, finding new shoe brands to show, and now being a part-time retail assistant for some extra spending money. I admire that about him. And through it all he’s always positive, cheery and upbeat.

From listening to him talk he is the ‘work to live’ type, rather than ‘live to work’, but with that, gives his all to whatever job he’s doing at the time. When he was packing up to leave our shop, his wife called to ask him to pick up some fresh oysters on his way home. He said they planned to ‘watch a couple of indie (art house) movies with a bottle of wine and some oysters’. I thought that sounded like a very stylish evening.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Avoiding overeating

I had the house to myself last night. My husband went out to a fund-raising quiz night with a group of his friends and the evening was all about me, me, me. In the past I have looked forward to such an evening as a ‘treat night’ where I would think about what I wanted to make myself for dinner and also plan what crap I was going to eat as well.

I would cruise the aisles of the supermarket shopping in preparation for the evening. There would be hard jubes, popcorn, chocolate and ice-cream (any or all of). So foul I know, and I would feel disgusting afterwards. Just how is this a treat Fifi? Yesterday afternoon as I was thinking of going out food shopping, I thought about the French Chic life.

I pictured myself reading the posts I have printed out off the French Chic yahoo group and being chic and slender ideal-French-girl Sabine rather than a piglet on a sofa with junque food. Just imagining myself reading my inspiring French Chic ‘book’ was all it took to change my mindset from ‘treat night’ to ‘French Chic night’.

All I bought at the supermarket was a piece of salmon and some milk.

I made myself the Jo Dinner as I call it. My mum Jo eats salmon and stir-fried vegetables five nights a week, she would probably have it seven if she didn’t spend two nights staying overnight at her job in a private girls school. People often compliment her on her complexion. I think it’s all that salmon like Mr Perricone says, along with a consistent skincare regime of course.

My stir-fry vegetables last night were carrot, broccoli, cauliflower, onion, garlic, capsicum, celery, mushrooms and green beans, in lemon infused olive oil since I was having fish. I’ve run into trouble before when making stir-fry for the two of us when all the different vegetables add up and I end up with a wok overflowing with goodness. It’s not really the best start to the meal when your husband says ‘this is getting ridiculous’ in a good-humoured way (and he’s a big eater).

Is it possible to binge on vegetables I wonder? After a stir-fry I always have a ready-made lunch for the next day. Last night was no exception, I still made twice what I needed even though I only used ½ a carrot, a few florets of broccoli, three or four beans, three mushrooms etc. Those veges really play up in a wok and expand.

In the background while I was cooking played the latest Buddha Bar XII cd – it is so me – the inner leaflet has French imagery including the Eiffel Tower, and CD 1 in the set is called La Vie En Rose. I almost swooned when I realised all this. It’s not dissimilar to the other Buddha Bar cds but I like that. It’s new, but familiar.

Before dinner I had a glass of chardonnay with cheese and crackers. I already had some Laughing Cow cheese which I had read so much about on the French Chic yahoo group. It is very delicious spread on crackers but I noticed it was made in Poland. That’s a bit worrying, a French-brand cheese made in a nearby low-income country. It makes me think of problems with food made in China.

I could be totally wrong, it could be made in Poland because they have such high-quality milk from happy (laughing) cows. But normally these decisions come down to money. As nice as the Laughing Cow cheese tasted, the fact of where it’s made, and also that it’s processed, I don’t think I’ll be buying it again.

Later on I watched an episode of The Starter Wife. One of the characters attends AA and she reminded a character leaving rehab about ‘one day at a time’. I thought to myself that would be a good credo for anything you wanted to achieve in life, whether it is overspending, overeating, living the French Chic life.

It’s hard to imagine you doing (or not doing) something for the rest of your life and that scares you into going back to how you were before. If I say I can never have a mini-pigout again, I would likely fixate on that. By saying ‘just get through this day’ eating healthfully and in reasonable proportions, well, this is much more achievable.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


No matter how many times I read the Desiderata I never tire of it. It has such relevance, even today (especially today - our modern world would do well to just. slow. down).

Wikipedia has some pretty interesting things to say about its history (mistaken and actual).

Its words have such power. They slow my heart-rate in a relaxing way and all my muscles untense. My brain changes into a lower gear and my mindset shifts.

Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

Lovely. A daily read I think, would be medicine for my head.

Update:  I recently came across this book which goes through the Desiderata line by line, and expands on their meaning so that we may more easily apply the wisdom to our daily life.  What I've read in the sample I love, and I instantly felt myself relaxing as I read.  This book is going on my wish list for sure!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Handling unpleasant people

When I first started attending a local yoga class a month-and-a-half ago, I went once a week. I have been enjoying it so much that I decided to double my attendance rate to two classes per week. I also decided to purchase a concession card rather than just paying casual rates.

I went to my additional class yesterday morning. It is at the same place, with the same teacher (she is so good – a perfect mix of being gentle, firm, and fun, with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the physical body and yoga). The only thing that is different are the people. I have gotten to know the faces of the folk in my Thursday class, but the Tuesday class are not the same faces. That’s fine, I don’t go to chat. There is a nice atmosphere but everyone is there to do their own yoga workout. Perfect.

Just as Stephanie is working on dealing with awful workmates, so I found myself yesterday morning at my new yoga class with some unpleasant and attention-seeking class attendees. Because there were only about eight of us at the most it was particularly noticeable. One of the women thought she had the right to disturb everyone else’s peace by saying such stupid things out loud as ‘this is excruciatingly painful’ and ‘oh it feels like my fingers might snap off’.

Sure most of the other people including me were probably thinking these things, but we didn’t feel self-important enough to decide that the others wanted to hear about it. She first drew attention to herself near the start of the class when she declared to the teacher ‘last time we did this pose you told me to do it differently as I couldn’t feel anything’ and then later on as the teacher walked around tweaking our poses ‘don’t stop doing that, it feels great’. It seems she treats the group class like a private lesson.

Now, unlike Stephanie, I don’t have to spend five days a week with this person (and her friends who giggled and laughed at her proclamations), but I pay a not-unreasonable amount to attend this class and enjoy the peace and quiet of a small group of people all with the same goal of bettering their physiques in a relaxing and gentle way.

I sincerely hope she doesn’t come to this class too often. And if she does then I suppose I’ll have to work on ignoring her. When I was walking back to work I saw her and her two friends heading into a cafe no doubt to call out inane observations loudly. At least the noise of the coffee machine would drown them out. No such luck in a quiet yoga class.

I thought to myself ‘that figures’ when I saw who one of the friends was. She was a late arrival to the class. We are asked to come five minutes early to get set up with our mats and props so we are relaxed and can start on time.

Last week I arrived dot on time (stressfully so, not a great start to the class) – I grabbed everything I needed and made as little disruption as possible. Not this one yesterday, she complained in a loud whisper (so we could all share) about her two children being sick, she was half-sick herself, and on and on. Meanwhile the whole class waited.

I remember a similar type (they’re scattered around carelessly everywhere unfortunately) who used to attend the same Weight Watchers meeting as me. She came along every week with a friend or two and would loudly claim she wasn’t losing weight and that Weight Watchers didn’t work, and asked how could you tell the size of a medium apple. When told it was as big as would reasonably fit in her hand, she snorted and said ‘I can fit a bloody big apple in my hand, so it must still be a medium-sized one’.

Yeah love, it’s a large apple that’s making you fat, not the giant bag of M&Ms you went on about eating last week. Do such people realise how tiresome they are? It’s a shame I have wasted mental energy on remembering this woman, and it must have been about twelve years ago if not more.

I have been wondering what Sabine, my ideal French girl would do in the yoga situation. I was quite shocked at the main loudmouth’s rudeness yesterday, and I admit I did give her a small ‘look’ at one stage. My plan will be to ignore her (these people love any kind of attention, good or bad) and focus on my own thoughts as well as the teacher’s voice.

Sometimes I find myself listening to a person’s cellphone conversation and just because you can hear it, your brain starts thinking about it. So tuning out her boorish honk is my goal.

That was always my mother’s advice about annoying people at school – ‘just ignore them and they’ll go away’. Here’s hoping.

Thank you for listening.

Monday, August 9, 2010


I’ve been 'being’ lately. Not spending so much time on the computer and only doing what I have to around the house (which seems to take up much of my two days off work per week anyway, even without added decluttering). I’ve been immersing myself in stories – mostly books, but a bit of tv too. Sometimes you just need to do that.

One of life’s greatest pleasures is a good story. I remember loving books as a child – Doghouse for Sale, The Rabbit’s Wedding, Pippi Longstocking, The Bobbsey Twins, Little House on the Prairie and many more. For a while (late teens, and my twenties) I thought I was above stories and declared I only read non-fiction. The good times I denied myself!

Nowadays I read plenty of non-fiction (and it’s not all French-themed) but always have a fiction book on the go. I am reading Emily Giffin’s latest ‘Heart of the Matter’ which is such an enjoyable read. She has written four books before this one. When I came across the first one by her I immediately ordered the following three from the library. She is a very talented ‘real’ chick-lit writer and you really want to know what happens next with the characters.

On a square eyes note, my husband and I are watching the first series of Boston Legal on DVD, since we only came to it in the last couple of series. Every episode is a great story (or stories) and the writing is so clever.

I have also begun viewing the tv series after the mini-series The Starter Wife with Debra Messing. I read the book by Gigi Levangie Grazer initially, then the mini-series and now the tv series. It’s recorded on our hard drive dvd recorder so I’ve got a few up my sleeve. I hardly have any time for it but have committed to two episodes per week, at lunchtime on my day off.

It’s so enjoyable how stories get into your mind and your psyche, and you remember the characters almost as real people. And going back to favourite stories is like visiting an old friend. It’s incredible the power of words strung together in a certain order.

One day I hope to publish a story of my own. It’s been brewing for years. I really admire Kristi for getting going and actually writing the thing.

One of my favourite simple pleasures is reading a book before I go to sleep. Because I have done it for so long, even if I’m really, really tired I have to read at least one page or I can’t fall to sleep.

What are your absolute all-time favourite books to read?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Chic Habits: The At-Home Facial

The at home facial. I have almost but forgotten about at home exfoliation and mask, which I used to do religiously twice a week, or once if I was slack. I have reached a new level of slack. The facial I had recently brought this to light.

My French beauty therapist commented on my skin being a lot more dry and sensitive than it had been the first time she had seen me eight months previous. She said the oil had trouble soaking in when she did the facial massage.

I have always had quite oily skin and had a lot of problems when I was younger with oiliness and acne, right into my twenties, so to hear this I almost don’t believe it. I am almost forty now, so I can’t expect oily skin to keep me looking young forever. And I can't keep using skin products designed for normal/combination skin forever.

She asked if I used a good night cream (the cream I have been using is quite light, not good) and was I exfoliating at home. Um, no.

The silly thing is when I did at home exfoliation-and-mask religiously (1-2 times per week) I really enjoyed the whole process. It felt quite spa-like to be in the bathroom with a basin of warm water, a clean hand-towel folded beside me, hair pulled back with a white toweling headband.

Last night I re-started my at-home routine. First, exfoliation with a gentle, natural scrub. I have also used baking soda but found it made my skin a bit pink. I will persevere with baking soda though as I know it's meant to be gentle. But in the meantime I bought an exfoliating product.

After washing off the scrub, I used the Centella floral mask which I purchased from my French beauty therapist. It can be left on or washed off as it is a moisturising one and does not dry like a clay mask. She said it can be used overnight in place of a night cream. It looks creamy and rich and contains wheatgerm and castor oils, as well as essential oils such as cinnamon bark, citrus, lavender, thyme and rosemary.

I also did my hand scrub. To finish off my home facial, I do a hand scrub, with a divine product I won in a magazine giveaway. It is called One Minute Manicure and the one I have is made from the oils of: walnut, grapeseed, avocado, apricot, jojoba and vitamin E mixed with dead sea salt and essential oils (peppermint, orange, lemon, rosemary, spearmint and ruby grapefruit - yum!).

On dampened hands I pour a small amount and proceed to exfoliate my hands thoroughly (using movements like washing them) taking special care around the drier areas like knuckles and the inside of the index finger. Also around the nails and cuticles. When it is washed off in warm water my hands feel like angels should be singing. They are quite soft from the oil, but I also add a rich hand cream like the delicious L’Occitane shea butter one.

It is actually so lovely to use that I would consider purchasing after my gift one has run out. Of course I would try to make some first with salt and olive oil, but after that maybe.

Why did I stop these face and hand treatments? Why Fiona? Would Sabine lie on the sofa watching tv in preference to beautifying herself? I don’t think so. And it’s not even like the two are mutually exclusive. I can mask, then lie. Thinking about it, mask then meditate is probably a better option. I could dim the lights in our bedroom, leave my husband in the living room, settle myself under a rug with relaxing music playing and then drift off on a rose petal, thinking soothing thoughts.

I bought a copy of ‘The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Short Meditations’ by Susan Gregg and there is a great relaxing exercise in it:

The Rose

Everyone knows how to visualize, but we all do it differently. While one person may see images, another person may feel them or hear them. This meditation helps you practice visualization. If you try really hard, images often remain elusive, so just allow yourself to relax and have fun.

Think about a beautiful rose. Imagine a single drop of dew on the edge of one of the petals. Allow yourself to gently be with the image. How do you perceive it? If you find yourself saying, ‘I can’t see a rose,’ just let go of that thought and think about a rose. What colour is it? How big is it? Does it have a scent? Can you see any thorns? Just allow yourself to play with the idea of a rose.

Focus on the texture of the petals. Is the rose fully open or is it a bud? Imagine yourself getting really tiny and sliding down the petal of the rose. When you reach the end of the petal, see yourself floating effortlessly in the air.

Is the rose alone, in a garden, or in part of a beautiful bouquet? What does the light feel like as it reflects off your rose? What thoughts and feelings come to mind as you think about a rose?

I can guarantee if you allow yourself to play with the image, you will be able to ‘see’ it. Relax, breathe, and play. Those are three wonderful concepts that can add immensely to the quality of your life.

I chose this book out of all the others at our local Borders bookstore because it seemed the most down-to-earth and simple way to learn how to meditate. It has lots of different tips and many little meditations like the one above, which I have found very helpful as a meditation novice.

So now I'm back in the saddle, one at-home routine behind me and all is well again this morning in the land of beauty. I will do another in 3-4 days. I like to schedule them when I am washing my hair the next morning then I don't have to worry about product getting into my hairline.

If you'd care to join me, please let us know what chic habits you would like to bring into your life, either on your own blog or in the comments here.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Home Office Declutter

In the weekend paper, my horoscope said this: 'Venus - your ruling planet - is in Virgo for five more days so use that time to clean, de-clutter and tie up loose ends. When the small things are taken care of, the bigger things will fall into place'. I have never seen a horoscope involving decluttering before. I haven't decluttered at all since my partial wardrobe declutter, so didn't think any more of it.

Yesterday morning, I got up at 6am, as I do. I get up about an hour earlier than I need to so I have time to have a cup of tea and read before getting ready for work. The Universe had other plans for me though, for I found the timer/countdown function on my cellphone and opened the door to... the home office/sewing room.

This hardworking, petite room is where items are placed while I decide what to do with them when decluttering. It's where my magazines are piled up (there are a lot less now after my magazine declutter part 1 and part 2). It's where my sewing machine and overlocker reside, as well as my small stashes of fabric and yarn, embroidery threads, knitting needles, crochet hooks, lace and elastic. It's where I keep all the pages I have pulled out of magazines, and articles printed off blogs and websites. It's where I put gifts from relatives that I don't know what to do with.

The poor, dear room. It deserves better.

Finally taking the 15-minute decluttering advice, I set my timer and got to work. I started putting away items that had been left out homeless, restacking the pile of mending which had fallen everywhere (and vowed to mend one item per night until it was done) and sat down to file pieces of paper.

I am lucky enough to have been given a wooden filing cabinet from my sister-in-law and it now has drop-files labelled with exciting (to me) names like French Chic, Personal Style, Home Style, Gentle Living (my favourite title), Homekeeping (which includes decluttering) and many more, including recipe categories like Baking, Slow Cooking and Sauces/Dressings. Once I have filed everything I can go through each file and thin it out.

The fifteen minutes was up before I knew it and I had already accomplished a lot. The room looked much better. I really wanted to keep going but only had ten more minutes before I needed to be in the shower (I have chunks of time for doing certain things in the morning, as I'm sure you do. I'm in real trouble when one chunk of time runs into the next one. It then all turns to custard at 9am when we have to leave the house). So of course I set my timer for 10 minutes and got back to it.

Today I couldn't wait to get up and do a little bit more home office decluttering, and set my timer for 30 minutes and set to filing. The rule is I'm only allowed to read the article as long as it takes for me to figure out what file it should go into. Otherwise I'd just be reading everything. It all looks so interesting.

It's so much fun looking through things you have kept, especially when they're in 'like' categories. You can really see themes that are important to you. And when they're all thinned out they can go into clear-files for each category. It's like having a magazine especially written for you, and with no advertisements. Who wouldn't love that.

I'm already looking forward to tomorrow morning's instalment. My husband looked at me with 'that look' (the incredulous one) when he heard I had been dawn-decluttering-by-timer. Each to his own I say.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

On not wasting time

My husband and I own and run a retail footwear business. At this stage we don’t have any staff, and we are open seven days a week. I update our website and do the bookwork, my husband does the ordering. We both see sales representatives with samples and both work in the shop.

All of this means we don’t get a ton of time off together, as the shop would have to be closed. We are happy with it this way for now and, believe it or not we do still have balance in our life. We very rarely take work home with us and we have days off during the week which I actually prefer. They aren’t with each other, but we do spend time together at work (we have fun as well as work, we ‘rub along nicely’ as you would say).

A day off during the week mostly means a day at home for me (my absolute favourite place to be) or if I have some errands (rare, as decluttering cures the urge to shop, especially with our tiny house) it’s so good to go shopping when most other people are at work.

If on the rare occasion I have to go to a mall, there are often lots of retired couples walking around, along with mums and preschoolers. I often think how nice it would be to be retired. Having an orderly, stress-free life. Spending all day doing the things you want to do, preparing for a meal, going out and gathering ingredients, browsing the library shelves, tending things at home.

I know I’m too young to think about retirement at 39, but when I’m out walking I go past a big new retirement complex nearby (which is more 'apartments to buy' than a rest home) and on the street-side is a big bay window looking into their communal living room. It is decorated with sofas that look like the Something’s Gotta Give house, in fact the whole property is very chic and stylish and new but looks classic.

There are retired people in there who, no matter when I walk past are always talking and laughing and socialising. It’s not far from our shop and I have often wondered what the minimum age is to move in. My husband is keen too! I sometimes wonder if we don't have more in common with these people than friends our own age.

We have no children, we like a tipple before dinner, we don’t hold rowdy parties, a soft jazz CD is the loudest thing we would play, we like our own space, we watch English soap Coronation Street and we rarely eat out. I think we actually already live like we’re retired (except that we go to work, a minor consideration).

I also really like the couples they use in retirement advertising. They are walking along a beach, the wife has jeans rolled up with a white shirt. She is slender and chic with a silver bob. Her husband is handsome and lean with salt and pepper hair (perhaps more pepper) and has jeans on also with a v-neck navy jersey. Very classic and I can definitely relate to their style!

Paris is a goal. We did not have a honeymoon when we married just over two years ago, and our next (first) overseas holiday will be our Paris honeymoon. I don’t care when that is, it could be ten years away. If this trip includes NYC so much the better. But I also think about retirement as a goal. It’s roughly twenty-five years away for me and my husband as here in New Zealand 65 is the retirement age.

I don’t want to fritter away time and money on mindless living. I did that in my twenties and thirties. Now that I am approaching my forties I have realised we don’t have endless years on this earth. I plan to enjoy my time and plan wisely for the future.

All of this may sound really selfish, me, me, me, my enjoyment. But I have served others in the past, by volunteering at the SPCA for about four years before we had our own business. I had to quit because I couldn’t be in two places at once. I donate money to favourite causes. It used to be Automatic Payments from my bank account, now I donate as and when I want to.

I also am in the process of using up my wool odds and ends and practicing my crochet by making rugs for needy babies. At my rate of crochet it could be a slow output but I’m doing something!

I also downloaded a knitting pattern from the SPCA for puppy sweaters. Apparently little abandoned puppies get dreadfully cold without their mother to warm them. So this is another plan for my wool scraps and tv time (I can’t watch tv or a movie without knitting, crocheting, filing my nails etc. I get too fiddly and would likely go looking for something to eat).

So my goal for the next twenty-five years (and beyond) is to continue as I have started out documenting on this blog:

Being healthy, strong and slender
Enjoying good, nutritious food cooked at home for the most part
Simplifying my life
Decluttering my home and paring down
Being a good steward of my money
Making the most of simple luxuries
Buying less but better quality, in food, clothing, furniture
Letting go of stressful notions that I can control the behaviour of others
Going with the flow
Nurturing my relationship with my husband – he comes before all other people in my life
Learn how to worry less, meditate. Anxiety is terribly aging
Learning not to worry about things I can’t change
Appreciate all that I have – ‘the less you want, the more you have’.
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