Sunday, January 29, 2012

Chic Habits: Be Chic at the Movies

One of my favourite treats at the movies is a box of popcorn. I have always loved popcorn and love the thought of being in the dark, watching a movie with a big tub, just for me. I used to order Large and in the last few years in an effort to be more normal, would order Medium size.

Still, I knew a big bucket of snack food wasn’t chic and somehow thought it could be my guilty secret, because it’s dark in there. I don’t think my dream Parisian girl Sabine would do this, snack on a giant size of something that is used to fatten cattle. My latest chic habit therefore is to:

Be chic at the movies.

Before: not being able to go to the movies without purchasing a medium or large tub of popcorn to graze unattractively on. My husband doesn’t eat anything at the movies so I feel really conspicuous next to him with my tub-0-lard.

Even when I went by myself to a movie recently I still felt self-conscious. I saw Audrey Tautou’s movie Beautiful Lies and was aware that the slightly older crowd of couples did not have buckets of grossness.

After: no popcorn. Now when I go along, I take a small bottle of chilled sparkling mineral water and sip this. I can buy it at the supermarket for a small price and slip it in my bag to take along. I feel très French and chic sipping on this periodically throughout the movie.

When I leave, I can throw the empty bottle in the bin and Voila, no ‘popcorn remorse’. I don’t even miss the popcorn! It was just always something I had done and enjoyed the ‘tradition’.

I think the transition was helped somewhat by the last bucket being underflavoured, slightly stale and pretty much tasteless. It tells me yet again that when you don’t prepare the food yourself you have no power to guide the ingredients.

Does anyone else have a popcorn fixation like me?

Friday, January 20, 2012

Creating A Peaceful Oasis Outdoors

The house we moved into three months ago, despite being about twenty years old, didn’t have much of a garden. There was plenty of lawn, a fair amount of invasive plant, some scrappy, spindly trees which had seen neither water nor pruning shears for a long time, a few dull shrubs (even the word ‘shrub’ is dreary isn’t it?) and many patches of overgrown white Arum lilies (too funereal for me).

Before I could even get my head around how we would make the outdoors here our peaceful oasis, my husband and his Dad went on a spring cleaning spree with chainsaw and weedkiller. It’s not quite as bad as it sounds though, and we now have a lovely blank canvas in which to shape over time. What did survive the cull was a petite lemon tree (yay!), one other tree which I will find out it’s name one day and another citrus, which citrus as yet unknown.

I have also banned weedkiller from here on in. My father-in-law’s answer to a lot of the garden areas in different spots was to, and I quote, ‘cover in concrete’. I love him to bits and he does many little jobs for us but he’s a very practical man.

We have a difference of opinion on companion animals (the politically correct name for pets these days) – I think they are a necessary part of enjoying life and he thinks they are an unnecessary hassle. So it doesn’t surprise me we also have differing views on a garden.

After reading The Palace Diaries by Sarah Goodall and getting to know Prince Charles (he seems a really lovely guy), I was interested to hear a little more about his pride and joy, the garden at his country residence Highgrove (gloriously pictured above). I borrowed a book from the library called The Garden at Highgrove by Candida Lycett Green (a wonderfully English name).

It is such an inspirational tome, even if Highgrove is on a slightly larger scale than our small section. I love the structure, topiary and many different shades of green used. I also really enjoyed the introduction written by Prince Charles himself.

He talks of wanting to heal a countryside decimated in the name of progress although admitted ‘trying to translate a series of rather vague feelings into practical, organic action was considerably more challenging than I thought’. I feel just the same, although sadly I don’t have a staff of gardeners to help me along my way.

One of our old neighbours is a landscape designer and although he said he doesn’t accept money from friends for plans, he is happy to come and have a walk around our property and give us some advice. I just cannot wait for this to happen so that we can start putting some structure into place that I can then fill in over the years.

And even if we didn't have this option, I would be educating myself with gardening books and internet searches. I'll see what style of garden I like and how different plants grow in our climate.

I already have plants in pots that I have taken from cuttings at my Dad’s place – box hedging and hydrangeas. I have visions of a path with hedging, white stone or shell, lavender, lemon, lime and mandarin trees, a Daphne bush for winter fragrance, a herb garden and summer vegetables.

I’ve dabbled in gardens to varying degrees over the years, more when I was a homeowner previous and in pots whilst renting, but am still very much a beginner.

I spent 15 minutes weeding last night before dinner as it was such a beautiful and balmy summer evening. I thought 15 minutes often is a good way to deal with maintenance such as weeding, especially as I have put my foot down and instituted the ‘no poisons on our property’ rule.

And of course I will be doing all this on a small budget, over time, a la Kaizen.

I am cheered on with turning our place into a mini-Highgrove by this quote from Joan Collins (really, how many times would you read of the Prince of Wales and Joan Collins in the same post?):

‘Make plans even if they might be a touch unrealistic. One of the keys to being happy is to believe in a beautiful future. Hope springs eternal.’

From ‘Joan’s Way - Looking Good, Feeling Great’, by Joan Collins

Friday, January 6, 2012


I was talking with my husband tonight about making our new home better over time, both with cleaning effort and low-cost updates. He told me about kaizen, which is Japanese for small and gradual improvement and that’s how their successful companies work.

I actually got very excited by this as it's how I live my life, and there’s a name for it. How often does that happen? I don't really go for high-cost, high-maiintenance but enjoy finding the d.i.y. low-cost, creative route.

Because we are focused on paying our home loan off in a much shorter time than the standard 25 years, we have decided to wait and see what improvements we want to do that require serious capital input.

We also practice this with our shop. I see other retail stores that spend big dollars on a fancy fitout (and make me feel like we should do the same) but within a few years have closed down.

Everything we do in our business we ask ‘how many pairs of shoes do we have to sell to pay for this, and is it worth it?’ Of course we have to be professional, but there are many, many ways to waste money I have found.

And we want our shop to be around for a long time. Being fiscally responsible is one way to ensure that as much as possible.

I often think imagine if you had a camera set up that took time-lapse photos of your home. It would show from the date you moved in how much better it looked month on month and year on year.

I’m sure ‘kaizen’ isn’t a better known term (or maybe you’ve already heard of it) because it’s not as exciting as the ‘big reveal’ of a makeover programme where everything is changed in an instant and everything is brand-new.

Just like a diet, slow and steady brings gradual and permanent change. As others have wisely noted in the comments section, our tastes change over time too, so if you redecorate your home all at once (obviously having just won the lottery), mightn’t you get sick of it soon?

As with personal style, I think it’s better to grow into your home look.

Click here and here for Wikipedia entries on Kaizen.
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