Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas Chic

Now that Christmas is almost here, have you planned ahead on how you are going to most enjoy the day?

Having been a little bit strict with what I eat and drink in December (just a little, not completely strict, that way it's do-able for the long term), I also plan to not let myself go completely on Christmas day. I have a plan for what I will consume, and while this sounds a bit Bah Humbug, I know I will be happier both during (looking chic) and after (feeling chic and slim).

Something as simple as deciding what you will do beforehand makes it surprisingly easy to resist temptation later on.

For example, I know that sugar makes me feel horrible after I have it and I often end up with a sinusitis headache (which lasts 2-3 days or even more) if I've eaten lots of sugar in one go. You’d think I would learn, and perhaps I am now.

I’m not talking about natural sugars here. I have fresh fruit every day for breakfast and am happy with that. But processed sugar is another thing altogether and I know I am happier with it not in my diet for the most part. But enjoyment of life is important, so I have some sweet treats most days (like two squares of 72% cocoa chocolate after dinner).

So on Christmas day my plan is to enjoy my meal and not pig out on the nibbles beforehand, and have a very small dessert after. Often the first taste is the nicest, and once you have tasted it then what do you need more for? At least that’s what I’m telling myself, and doesn’t it sound more chic than a piled up dessert bowl?

We have two ‘Christmas days’ coming up. I am doing desserts for both Christmas dinners. For the first one on Christmas day, I have been asked to make a Banoffi Pie. This dessert is decadent to the max, so my plan is to have the tiniest sliver after my dinner, so I can have a taste of it without making myself feel sick.

The next Christmas dinner one day later, my plan for dessert is to prepare fresh seasonal fruit and bring a gourmet ice cream to have with it. Doesn’t that sound refreshing after a big Christmas dinner? Remember it is summer here!

I have plans for drinks too. I will be taking along chilled bottles of Perrier and sparkling white grape juice and will sip these from a champagne flute. I don’t drink anymore (that’s a story for another day) but when I did, I would often have only one glass of champagne before dinner and maybe one glass of wine with dinner.

Drinking during the day makes you so tired, even one glass will. I still remember a champagne Christmas breakfast where I had a couple of glasses of bubbles in the morning and felt out of sorts all day.

And to finish off, you may also want to think about plans on how you are going to go about your Christmas day. What time you are going to wake up, how organised you will be, how relaxed and cheerful you are and how much time you will leave yourself to get to places. When I have a social occasion coming up that is a bit out of the ordinary I like to do this and it helps me be calmer, nicer and enjoy it more.

I also pledge to myself that I will have mystique and decorum when I am there, and always, always have a strategy to deal with those that I know may challenge my serenity. I don’t want to stoop to their level so I try to take the high road and don’t do much of the talking myself, that way I cannot be caught out by them. I am pleasant but detached around those I am wary of.

I realise my strategies outlined above may seem like overkill and a bit regimented but they aren’t supposed to be. I just like to think about things beforehand and go through likely scenarios and how I will react to them. I also like to play out dinners in my mind and think about what I will eat and drink. There is a quote about discipline setting you free, rather than holding you back like we think it does, and I try to remember that.

Deciding about things ahead of time really does help me be disciplined and do what I want to do, rather than be carried away by what’s available and what people offer me. You don’t need to make a big deal out of not having something either. If someone offers you something that you don’t want, you can simply say, ‘oh I couldn’t/won’t right now, but I might have some later when I have a bit more room’, or if it’s before dinner ‘oh I’m saving myself for dinner, I might have some later though’ (later may never come but no-one needs to know that!). And of course a simple and polite 'no thank you' with a smile always works too.

I always find it’s easier to resist the first taste of something you didn’t know you wanted until you saw it, than to try and stop that automatic arm shovelling snacks into your mouth.

Lastly, pull your shoulders back and remember to breathe. I have to constantly remind myself of that.

Wishing you a chic Christmas, see you next year!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Inspiring Blogs

Coffee-table candles gussied up for Christmas

Ever since I started reading the first blog I came across almost a decade ago, they have been happy places of inspiration and company. Sometimes I will click through to a blog that is new to me and read for a short while before moving on. It is subtle things that can turn you on or off to a blog but the main thing to me is the genuineness of someone’s voice.

I am still reading the first blog that came onto my radar and even though her life is totally different to mine, really, in every way possible, I still gain peace and pleasure from many of her posts.

Others listed below I have also been reading for many years and even if I might have a break because I’ve lost all my bookmarks with a computer changeover for example, I eventually find my favourites again and it’s like visiting an old friend!

I have gained so many fabulous ideas and ways to live well from all the blog posts that I have read over the years, and a lot of them I have printed out to make my own wonderful books. My favourite early-bedtime reading is one of these binders. They soothe me like nothing else does.

Of course you have to have your own mind and decide the direction you want your life to take and what you want in it, but I do really enjoy having places I can visit when I am lacking in motivation or need inspiring. I think the one thing that these blogs share is that they tell me I am good enough exactly as I am, whilst also making me want to be the best version of myself possible and be nice to others at the same time. Isn't that grand?

I’d like to share with you a few of my long-time favourites. Some of them are religious and many are focused on the home, and living in a beautifully simple way. Seeing them listed now, I don’t really follow style blogs it seems. I feel like I should but I don’t! I find fashion blogs can make me feel anxious and like I'm not trying hard enough. I have my own classic way of dressing that I tweak over time to stay au courant (that's what I tell myself anyway). By not having too many clothes, it means when I do purchase something it is from the current season so I don't worry about that really.

In no particular order, my long-time favourites:

Charming The Birds From The Trees

Home Living

Pleasant View Schoolhouse

Domestic Felicity

The Gardener’s Cottage

And some newer (to me) ones I am enjoying at the moment:

Down To Earth

Posie Gets Cozy

The Quiet Home

The Enchanted Cottage

And then there are the blogs which have been deleted or are no longer being written on that I treasure the wise words I have saved and printed out. I can’t say thank you to all those people individually, but perhaps by sending it out into the atmosphere now, it will reach them in some way. Please accept my sincere thanks and appreciation for your thoughts and ideas. Your words have helped me in more ways than you will ever know.

I would love to hear your all-time favourite and perhaps longest-time reading blogs? I’m always open to new ones (even if they aren’t new at all!)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Wardrobe Decluttering

The donation pile

In the journey around my house where I am decluttering and organizing little areas at a time, my wardrobe drawers came next.

I have three large drawers in my dresser where I keep my non-hanging clothes. Imagine my horror when I found a dead moth in the bottom of the drawer that holds my fine merino knit tops and jerseys. None of them were expensive, but still, I don’t want any holes in them!

In the winter I don’t wash my merino tops every time I wear them as I will always have something else on underneath and I think overwashing ages them quicker. But now it’s the end of the cold season here in New Zealand, I will do a dark wool wash and a light wool wash and have all my knits clean and ready for next year.

I also sprayed Yardley lavender liberally throughout my drawers and will sew up some lavender bags with dried lavender that I already have. Moths don’t like the smell and lucky for me I do. My drawers smell wonderful now.

Short-sleeve t-shirts and a few long-sleeve t-shirts with lots of lovely room to breathe!  Yardley Lavender spray stashed in the corner so I'll remember to use it.

In the process of sorting through my wool tops to wash, I tried a few on that I hadn’t worn much or at all and confirmed that they looked frumpy dumpy on me. That is not the look I am going for. I put them in a pile to donate. Since I won’t be donating for a week or so I don’t need to think too much about it. If I did I would probably put some back, but I know I’ve made the right decisions. If I’m dithering over getting rid of something, it probably means it needs to go.

I also sorted through my short sleeved t-shirts, long-sleeved t-shirts, active wear and home loungewear. Around the house I like to wear light-weight palazzo style pants and a coordinating t-shirt or singlet (vest) top in the summer.

Casual skirts and denim shorts, long-sleeve tops and empty space for merino tops once they are washed

One of the characters in the movie Sideways which we had on the other night was wearing satin floral drawstring pants with a lacy sleeveless top and little scuffs at home. My husband commented that it would be a nice home outfit for me and noted that silky and fine fabrics are very feminine and attractive for women. That helps me clean out some of the utilitarian but not very feminine clothes I have been wearing at home!

In my bedroom I took all three drawers out and put them on the floor, then stacked all the piles on my bed, quickly sorting through and refolding items I like and know look good on me. The ones that I don’t like and that don’t look as nice on me I put in a donate pile. After spraying my drawers with Yardley lavender I stacked everything back neatly, in piles where like is with like. All my woolens were put in the laundry basket.

Home lounge-wear, walking clothes and sleepwear

I was so happy to see that my folded tops did not even come halfway up the sides of my drawers. Having too many clothes is worse than having not enough clothes to me. And I know that someone else will enjoy my donations more than I do and probably look better in them as well.

One white cotton Ralph Lauren t-shirt that I was given as a gift I never felt good in because the neckline was very high and the sleeves were quite tight. The high neckline did not flatter my biggish bust and the sleeves made my arms look more sausage-like than they are. No-one needs that. So I googled ‘how to change t-shirt neckline’ and followed one girl’s instructions. It came out well!

I then cut off the sleeve hems and rolled/folded loosely the raw edge, tiny under the arm and half an inch on three folds at the top centre and tacked them with a couple of stitches in those two areas. I have a few other t-shirts where this has been done (by the manufactuers, not me) so it must be the thing at the moment. The white RL still isn’t my favourite t-shirt but it’s a vast improvement on what it was so I will keep it for now and see if I wear it this summer.

Remodelled white cotton RL t-shirt

So I now have a decent stack of donations (maybe a dozen items), winter knits to launder, check for holes and de-pill with my lint shaver and lovely, airy, roomy drawers. It really is a thrill getting dressed the next day when you do something like this.

I’m glad I enjoy a simple life and that it doesn’t take much to make me happy.

And meanwhile, in the living room... sleepy afternoon cats, with one fancy sofa each. Do you think ordering a three-seater for each cat was too much? I don't like to have them cramped.

Nina, showing that a paw is a good shield from bright sun

Jessica, sleepy dozing

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A Simple Christmas

What excites me most right now is living a simple life, and decluttering and organising to aid in this quest. I’ve been doing this with many areas of my home and life as I come across them, and a few months ago I thought about Christmas.

Even though it is a time of year I look forward to, there are parts of it I don’t like. These things are others expectations and too many gifts. I know I can be a bit of a control freak and that’s what I’m working on, not being bothered by what other people want or do. I am going with the flow and know that the only person I can control is myself and also the way I deal with things.

I have issues with gifts because even though they are genuine and meant well, I find them stressful because if they are something I wouldn’t use or don’t like or will clutter my house, I feel like the person who has given me the gift has wasted their money, and being from thrifty Scottish stock that upsets me. My brother calls gifts ‘knick knacks and cloggers’ and tells us not to give him any. The way he says it always makes me laugh.

And I don’t believe you have to give gifts to show love for your family and friends. Little kids, yes, I know get excited about Christmas presents, but as we get older I am more than happy to receive not a single one and just spend time with the people I care about. Last year for the first time my brother, sister and I did not swap gifts and it didn't make Christmas any less special.

So I sat down to make a list of how I can have a simple Christmas and really enjoy this magical time of year. Here is my list.

How can I have a Simple Christmas?

1. Make a choice to have a simple Christmas
2. Make lists and look at ways to make them easier/less
3. No unnecessary rubbish
4. Don’t swap presents with those that agree
5. Leave time to recharge the batteries
6. From 1st December switch into Christmas mode – put the tree and decorations up, feel relaxed and Christmassy, watch Christmas movies and tv, don’t eat too much crap – eat good food and feel well
7. Don’t stress about what others will do – take them for who they are and be happy with that
8. Look at all my Christmas blessings – a wonderful husband, comfortable and happy home, loving family, financially stable, our own business that we happily run together
9. Think of others at Christmas that I can reach out to – (and I’ve got a few people listed).

I put our tree up today, and Jessica is posing with it above. She is such an obliging model-cat. Nina was too busy tearing around to stop for a photo. She never stops! Up and down the hall, in the cat-door and straight upstairs, s-shape from the dining area, down the hall and into the guest bedroom and many other routes. I wonder if it’s because she grew up from kitten-age in a crowded cat shelter until past the age of 2 with no room to run around – she’s really making the most of all this space with just her and Jessica now!

With my decluttering enthusiasm lately, I even managed to declutter my Christmas tree decorations. I tell you, there is no part of my home that escapes decluttering at the moment! I realised the purple decorations I bought a few years ago which I thought would zazz up my Christmas tree were a big mistake. I am not a purple girl. I am classics and I am neutrals.

So I took out all the decorations I love and put them in a smaller container and bagged up the purple hanging baubles and purple tinsel and put them with the coloured fairy lights. I donated these to a charity store today when I went out. When I want something gone, I want it gone.

Now my tree has every single Christmas decoration I own on it, in silver, gold and a touch of red, and white fairy lights. I also have a few decorative items around my coffee table candles and apart from these, just a small wreath in our entrance way (and I’m even a bit half-hearted about that so it could be donated soon). And that's the extent of my simple Christmas decorating.

I would love to hear any thoughts you might have about simplifying Christmas.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Saying Au Revoir to Magazines

The last of my magazines waiting to be read and donated

In my quest to simplify, I have come to realise that magazines do not currently have a place in the vision I have for my life. They have always been a bit of a love/hate thing for me. On the one hand I get excited to see the new glossy covers for the month and the possibilities that lie inside.

But on the other hand, all that gloss falls away literally as soon as I get home and I see that I have many others that look very similar, and I haven’t read them completely yet and it almost seems a chore to do so. When I do, it’s to get rid of them and I flick through searching for the odd good article but finding mostly ads and vacuous sound-bites that do nothing to improve the quality of my life.

I think I’ll find that one sentence or point of view that will change my life, make everything click into place but I never do, and I’ve realised I don’t need to. Everything I need to know is already inside me and will come out at the right time.

And I haven’t even mentioned the envy yet. The feeling of ‘not good enough’ and inadequacy I get from seeing a perfectly staged home in exactly the style I think I want, well, I am paying someone to make me feel this way?

What I need most is not stacks of magazines staring at me and taking up space, but the calm and serenity of an empty space, where those magazines once sat.

Even ordering the latest magazines from the library has lost its appeal, and that seemed like a perfect system when I found out about it. I can order in specific copies, and yes I might have to wait a couple of weeks, but I can still read them for free, and then return them after a fortnight.

Even this, the free, no-clutter magazine solution is not for me. Two weeks would almost be up and I hadn’t even opened them. So I’d spend the night before they were due back scanning them so I had ‘read’ them.

By their very nature, magazines are not the place to find information on living a simple and stress-free life, how to dress in a classic way and not buy new clothes all the time, how to not spend much and live frugally. Why? Because they are a vehicle to sell you things. Things that you didn’t even know you needed or wanted.

Having worked for a huge French cosmetic company before I became a self-employed shopgirl, I know that the editorial pages, where items are written about in an ‘impartial’ manner, are filled with the products of advertisers. If you don’t advertise then you will be unlikely to get promoted in the editorial pages.

So really, I have been paying for shopping catalogues all these years. Yes, I admit, I have torn a lot of good and interesting pages from magazines (just my own mind, removing library magazine pages should be a criminal offence) and these are in files that I periodically read. But I could have lived without them. And I am now on a quest to go through those files and bin a lot of the info, because it isn’t anything special. The rare diamond will go into the ‘keep’ pile. How is it that something you previously thought was fun has turned into work?

I have been working on thinning down my style files this week, and I would estimate at least 4/5 of what I had has gone into the recycling. It has been quite an illuminating exercise though. Much of the written information that was helpful at the time, I now do as a matter of course, and some magazine articles I look at and think ‘I could have written better myself’.

In the home-style file, it was fun to flick through all the images and easily see the ones that weren’t quite me, or might have been me a few years ago. Now I can see I just need to tweak the odd thing here and there in our home to achieve the style I am drawn to (I want to add a bit of shine to my decor to pretty up the rustic).

So my library magazine request list is down from a dozen titles to just one for now. I vow not to buy any magazines, not that that will be hard as I’m already not buying magazines. And the magazines I have designated as being keepers (the handful of Victoria magazines I have, as I find those very relaxing to read) I will be reading through one at a time, and donating.

Sure I’ll read through the odd one here or there if I’m passed them on, or if I’m in a waiting room. I’m not totally anti-magazine. However I know that doing this one thing of eliminating magazines for the most part will encourage peace and serenity in my daily life. I’d far rather read a book.

I feel like I am being quite ruthless and a little bit dramatic about it but you have to be. You have to decide how you want to spend your time because it is precious, and life is short. I want what I choose to be in my life, not any old twaddle that finds its way to my door.

I spent at least an hour on my last day off reading through house and garden and Vogue-type magazines so that I could donate them. I also spent a similar amount of time weeding in our garden. Crazy as it sounds, the weeding gave me much more satisfaction, and it was exercise at the same time. Not that I was doing cartwheels on the lawn, but getting up and down and moving around is better for you than sitting on your bum on the carpet wishing you didn’t have so many magazines to get rid of (yes, another first world problem as they say).

I’m doing really well with my decluttering (for those of us that naturally accumulate ‘stuff’ it may be a lifelong endeavour) but there are just those last few areas, like this one of magazines, that need to be dealt with. They are almost like a weedy patch that keeps sprouting up!

Just as there are ‘hotspots’ in your home that seem to become cluttered automatically and need constant vigilance, I think there can be genres or categories for each of us that require strictness to stop them getting out of control and adding stress to our life.

I hasten to add, please don’t think I am bagging magazines. Over the years they have been a great friend and have provided me with company and inspiration. But now, well, I think it’s time for my old friend and I to amicably part company.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Cultivating Calmness


‘Make inner peace your highest goal and you will probably never make another mistake.’ – Brian Tracy

I heard this listening to an audiobook by my friend Brian Tracy when I was driving home from work a few days ago. I wrote it down at the next red light and put it in my little French Chic notebook when I got home. I have been repeating it to myself since I first heard it and it has been so helpful and comforting.

Getting worked up over little things always makes me feel awful and I know it’s not good for me, both mentally and physically. Now that I have taken on board to ‘make inner peace my highest goal', situations that I would have become quite annoyed with were simply smoothed over and I felt much better about everything afterwards even though ‘by rights’ I should have been bothered about something.

In an instance where I feel myself becoming peeved over a minor annoyance, I repeat the saying to myself and instantly feel transformed. Inner peace is a wonderful thing to strive for and I’m going to use Brian’s saying almost as my life motto.

I was at the supermarket just before, and I noticed I was overcharged for two items. I went to the customer services desk and was told I was wrong. I was sure I was right but after querying them a bit more and them telling me I could ring the toll-free number for their head office to check it out, I said I trusted them, and left the store.

I had planned to call the head office once I got to the car ‘for my own peace of mind’ to know if I was incorrect or they were. By the time I opened my car door I had been repeating my new mantra to myself and realised it wasn’t worth the $1.89 difference to me (even though I believe the saying that if you look after the pennies the pounds will look after themselves).

I could see me spending time on hold and getting myself all churned up talking to someone trying to prove I was right. It wasn’t worth it! Making inner peace my highest goal saved the day and I was calm as I drove home.

Last week I was reading about Kim Cattrell in an English magazine (Woman & Home, May 2013). She was being interviewed, among other things, about how incredible she looks for her age. This is what she said:

When I hit my forties I thought, ‘I can’t play a sexy siren any more.’ Almost 20 years later, it’s still going on. I think that’s because I take care of myself, which includes dieting, exercising and minimizing stress. I joke that I’ve been on a diet since 1974, which is basically true. I like to eat, and my body type is not naturally this thin, especially at this age. So I do watch what I eat and drink but I’m not obsessive – it’s just a way of life. So I don’t have dessert after every meal – I just can’t do it. I have a big appetite, and staying on top of that is about knowing myself and saying, ‘I can eat that today but tomorrow I’m not going to.’ And I’m always aware – from gaining and losing weight for parts – that the time in the gym trying to lose extra weight is really hard work! I always have that in my mind.

Apart from the fact that I was impressed with her honesty, I thought it was so interesting that she included reducing stress in her life as one of her keys to staying slim, healthy and youthful-looking.

You often hear celebrities talk about meditation and I even bought myself Meditation for Dummies which actually is a wonderful book. But I still would get all righteous and worked up over small injustices in daily life and the meditation book couldn’t fix that.

I always felt like I wanted everything to be fair. It was easy when I was the one who had to tell the truth, give back the wallet I found with $400 in it, own up to a mistake and all those sorts of things. But when it’s the other person who should be ‘giving in’, well, you can’t control that and it’s stressful when you try!

So as good as my meditation book was, it didn’t help me be calm in various situations. My ‘new life motto’ does. It helps me see the truth and live a peaceful life. It applies to any and every situation that I have tested it on so far and I am very thankful that I came across it.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Simple and Tidy

What I’m enjoying doing most right now is 'curating' my simple and tidy life. I have been spending five minutes here and five minutes there organizing a corner, decluttering magazines I have read and passing them on to someone else, using things up and appreciating all that I have.

I feel so grateful that I am now a homeowner, literally every day I feel that. On a stormy night when I can hear the rain on the roof, I say thank you for our house. When I walk in the door after work, I say thank you for our house. In New Zealand at least anyway, I know that so many are not able to purchase a home, pay it off and make it their own, so I know how truly lucky I am.

Yes, I work hard and try to spend my money wisely, but I also had a good start with loving parents, a stable home life and a wonderful childhood. Other people haven’t been so lucky.

Part of having gratitude for where I live and what surrounds me is to have airy, open rooms with just the right amount of stuff in them. I know straight away the areas that I don’t like, even when I am out of the house. It’s amazing how much power clutter has on you, when something can actually bother you even though you cannot see it or are not even physically near it.

Each night this week, I have been gathering bits and pieces I want to donate, and putting them on the guest bed (lucky it’s Queen-size). Once or twice a month I do a drop-off to a local charity shop.

I have also been using things up, such as body products and cosmetics. Little amounts left of body lotions I have mixed up into one pump container and now use this every day. I bore of scents quickly so it’s nice to have a ‘new’ one.

I also gathered up three favourite lipsticks that are now worn down flat and scraped them into a cleaned out Bobbi Brown sample pot (5ml or 7ml size, something like that). I then mixed in a liberal amount of Burts Bees lip balm (minty!) and stirred it all together in the pot with a clean skinny wooden stick (the type you get in manicure sets).

I now have a new sheer lipstick which I put on with a lip brush each morning, plus I got to throw out three lipstick tubes without feeling like I wasted anything.

Inspired by Patricia Volk’s description of her mother Audrey in the memoir ‘Shocked’, I pick up tiny bits off the carpet, rather than leave them there to bother me until I vacuum. Audrey would apparently ‘march a sesame seed off the floor to the rubbish bin’ and say to her daughter ‘it’s good exercise, bend from the waist’. I think of that now when I see a piece of cat fluff or a black speck or a tiny leaf. Plus, the carpet looks nicer between vacuum cleanings.

My sister is decluttering and organizing for a cleaned out, satisfying and serene life too. We have both been reading minimalist websites to fuel the desire to live with just enough. It’s an ongoing ‘first world problem’ (even though I can’t stand that saying!) that we have to be on constant vigilance against the ever-present clutter building up. And I’m not even a big shopper.

I know my message is a bit jumbled in this post – part gratefulness, part decluttering, but really when I think about it, the two go hand in hand. It is those that respect their possessions (and therefore are grateful for them) that move along items they are not using so that others may gain benefit from them.

Friday, October 25, 2013

A Simple and Easy Wardrobe Fix

Currently I rotate two pairs of jeans. All my others are a bit tight and I'm ok with that right now. Maybe I took the advice of an Italian boutique girl too literally when she told me to 'buy the tightest pair you can button'. If they are too tight I don't want to wear them!

So for now I'm enjoying alternating my two comfortable pairs. They are by Diesel and the style is Ronhoir (‘regular boot cut’). I tried on a million pairs of Diesel jeans at the time and these fitted me best around the waist and hips so I bought a blue wash and a dark-ish brown blue wash in the same style.

You may already know that Diesel jeans are not cheap, and in the past I’ve been a cheap jeans wearer. Well, I took my husband’s advice that ‘jeans are worth spending money on’ and now I am a convert too. I love their comfort and how they look on me, but I always coveted a straight or skinny pair.

Our Diesel shoes sales rep told me he knows of people who have taken their jeans in successfully. At the time I thought to myself, I’m not going to pay ‘that’ much on jeans and then cut them up, but after quite some time had passed and my jeans weren’t brand new anymore (even though they have kept their shape beautifully and still look good) I decided to give it a go.

This is how I did it. It was such a great success that I did my second pair just the same, and I’ve been loving them ever since. It’s easy if you have a sewing machine, or a tailor could do it in not too much time (so not too much cost). It’s the best wardrobe fix ever if you have jeans that you like the fit but want to update the leg.

I washed them and then turned inside out. I unpicked the hems right round and ironed flat. Then I laid the jeans out on the carpet and actually pinned them onto the carpet, to keep them flat and smooth. I took them in on the outside seam, because that seam did not have top-stitching on the outside, whereas the inside seam did.

I ruled a straight line from just below where the pocket/outside seam topstitching ended (about mid-thigh) to the bottom hem fold line, where I had marked about 1.5 inches in. I initially tried 2 inches in from the outside seam (that's double overall, as there is two inches on each side) but when I did a tacking stitch line to try them on they were too tight. I didn’t want them to look like leggings.

You don’t have to be too perfect about it, especially if there’s a bit of stretch in the denim. My first pair was a hand-drawn line pinned, and it looks the same as my second pair where I got more perfect with a pinned out tape measure to give me a straighter line.

After you’ve stitched your seam, zig-zag or overlock and then trim the fabric off. Try on along the way before you commit to the seam finishing and trimming. Next, simply flip the hem back up again and stitch around (it will go up easily since the folds were there to start with, just make sure you match the fold lines when you pin and stitch).

If you are like I was you will get an excited feeling in your tummy that you have a new and stylish (and sexy!) pair of jeans in place of your previous nice but slightly boring and mumsy ones. No purchase or decluttering necessary.

This simple change has made a huge difference to my current uniform of either an ironed blouse/shirt or knit top/t-shirt with my ‘new’ jeans and either heels or ballet flats. I feel more gamine and youthful and French and chic, and who doesn’t love that.

Today I have them rolled up to a) to feel summery and b) so I don’t get dark blue denim marks on my red suede Clarks ballets.

Here are some images from of the original leg shape, on a lovely model of course. Another bonus of taking the legs in is that my two pairs were never quite long enough, because the store did not have the longer leg length. With a narrower leg that doesn't matter so much and now they are perfect for me.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Ask Three Questions

I often struggle with small talk. I know it’s the grease that smoothes comfortable interaction between two people, but that doesn’t make it any easier. I don’t just want to talk about clichéd rubbish, but how do you start a conversation?

Like a lot of people, I am quite shy about talking to others in certain situations. We all fear being judged or laughed at for saying something silly. Whenever someone I talk with is naturally interesting and charming, I try to analyse what it is about that person that makes them so easy to talk with. And of course see if I can emulate it in the future!

I read something interesting the other day. It was in an article about a women with a school-aged son with autism. She was teaching him how to engage well with others, and was training him to ask someone three questions before he spoke about himself.

This advice has stuck with me because I’ve not heard it so clear cut before. I know it’s more polite to ask after others than to talk about yourself, but for some reason I have thought about this lady’s advice quite a lot.

Remembering back to different conversations I have had with people, it is the people who ask more questions than talk about themselves that I seem to like more, and that is because it makes them seem interested in you.

I have tried the Three Questions technique a few times now, and am happy to report that it works! Plus the bonus is that it’s an easy thing to remember. More often than not, before you get to three questions, a conversation is sparked off and you’re away anyway, no struggle or awkward silence necessary.

I have been reluctant to ask questions in the past as I have not wanted to seem nosy, but there are plenty of open-ended questions you can use that are friendly and interested, not rude and cheeky.

Part of making this technique a success, and any form of interaction with others really, is to be aware of subtle cues as to whether someone is uncommunicative. It’s awful to watch a conversation where one party is uncomfortable or bored rigid and the other is blathering on not even noticing if they are being heard or not.

I really, really hope I am not like that and it’s something I am constantly working on. When in doubt, stop talking and just listen, or enjoy a little bit of quietness for a minute or two!

I use the Three Questions technique in the shop too when I am serving customers, whether I know them well or have just met them, and it seems to make the whole serving experience more normal and natural.

I’m like a mystery shopper everywhere I go now. As I have shopping experiences I look at the person serving me and see how I am treated and if I can either take some tips from it if it’s good, or avoid being like that it if it’s bad.

I do know that I am always really flattered if a shop assistant asks me a question, beyond of course the annoying, chirpy ‘how are you today, got any plans later on, is it your day off’ all in a row. If there’s nothing actually to chat about, I am happy with eye contact and a smile, and I try to remember that when I am serving.

Have you ever had an experience where a shop assistant just won’t shut up? Ghastly! The thought of possibly being that person keeps me quiet, or else I ask a (pertinent and not too nosy) question and just listen.

The image above is Paris in 1914, borrowed from

Sunday, September 29, 2013

A Health Schedule

I have been thinking lately about how I can be more pro-active about my health. Now that I am ‘forty plus’ I want to not take my health for granted. I plan to live a long, healthy, happy and vibrant life.

To address the ‘healthy’ part of the equation I have always been interested in good nutrition, and including incidental exercise in your day etc. The other side of things though is medical check-ups, and catching something that might start out small but if not detected could be a big problem later on.

I had a mole on my leg removed privately a couple of years back because it bothered me. More than one medical professional, including a skin surgeon told me it was nothing to worry about. When the results came back it was a melanoma. I had one more surgery to take more surrounding tissue, and thankfully it had not spread.

This scary incident taught me to trust my own instincts, but also now I have a twice a year skin check. My skin Doctor sends me a letter every six months and when I see it in the mail I think ‘is it really six months already?’ and then get around to ringing him for an appointment and then it’s another four weeks before I can see him.

The one car that my husband and I share, without fail has its service every July when its warrant of fitness is due. I actually make sure that happens but I let my own appointments slide, and a car is certainly more replaceable than a body!

Yes, health appointments can be quite bothersome and cost money too, but I have now made a decision to ‘just do it’. Book them in and go. Don’t think about if I ‘want to’, because who ever does?

To assist myself in this I have made up a schedule so that I know when I have to book myself in for.

September – full Doctor checkup
October and April – skin checks
March – full dental checkup

In New Zealand, it’s only recommended that a woman has a smear test every three years, but about ten years ago a Doctor I visited said he recommended annually to his patients, as sometimes the results weren’t that clear, and if you only went every three years, it could be six years between readings and he considered that too long.

My current Doctor also recommended I add an eye checkup to my list, not only for seeing, but also for eye health. I read in a magazine that every two years is recommended and that some optometrists have special machines that check the eye very thoroughly.

So apart from scheduling in my reminders to make appointments each year (and I have already bought my 2014 diary so I can do that right now), is to investigate an optometrist to go and see.

I feel really good about making a schedule and making the appointments myself to do something in a certain month. By not waiting for the reminder letters:

a) I am not relying on them to remember - sometimes reminder letters are lost or not sent out. b) I don’t begrudge the appointment because I am the one that has made it.

I think I have all things covered, is there anything else you can recommend I add to my schedule?

Friday, September 20, 2013

Guest Post: Chic in Japan

It is my pleasure to introduce a guest post by Karabella, a lovely reader and email friend who was lucky enough to travel to Japan with her husband recently. Karabella was struck by the chic-ness of Japanese women, so of course I begged her to put some notes down so we can all be inspired.

With great excitement may I present to you Karabella’s guest post. Merci Karabella!


It was my third visit to the Land of the Rising Sun. During this most recent visit I had time to observe and savour every moment. Please note this post is plainly my observations and views, which may be a little clouded by my crush on the Japanese culture.

I noticed that the Japanese were very much like the French; looking good (evidenced by the galore of mind boggling beauty products); good quality of everything (including snacks...yes, they do snack); impeccable manners and excellent service.

Japanese ladies are the epitome of girlish and womanly femininity. They embrace their womanhood.

Most of the petite and very slim Japanese ladies boast flawless fair skin. But yes, there are those with tan skin too. With the endless beauty products in their drug stores and pharmacies, one did not need to ponder long how they achieved such flawless baby skin.

I wouldn't say they had effortless makeup, as you could tell they had on blush, lipstick and definitely eye makeup. I loved their eyeliner. Most emphasised with their eye makeup, some with false lashes.

But one can't help respecting and celebrating their beauty; as they make a concerted effort to look pretty, rather than good, if that makes sense.

I love that they celebrate their femininity. I love that they don't make any apologies for being a woman. And there seemed no judgement on being vain, in looking pretty and dressing up ALL the time.

Most had dyed feminine long hair. It's sometimes styled with womenly and romantic curls, and a plait here and there was a common sight too. They did not have highlights - it was usually a block colour. Mahogany brown, dark blonde etc.

Even those with short hair looked feminine. Of course, it was very interesting to see those with other hair colours like blue, green, pink... It showed off their individualistic personalities.

Yes. I did see many older ladies sporting long hair too. And always with makeup.

Incidentally, I saw an impressive woman of a certain age, who had super-short spiky hair dyed bright green wearing a very sharp, white skirt suit, finished off with a bright red lipstick, shopping with a very erect posture. I was blown away.

I know on paper it doesn't sound right; but this strong Japanese lady knew who she was and dressed accordingly. She managed to still rock femininity, and be chic and polished, all at the same time. One can't help but be in awe. She could pull it off. That was essentially her. A powerful lesson for me - to dress me as me.

Many wore lace; frills; skirts and because it was late summer, many still wore very pretty wedges... and I saw many wore rocket high heels; wedges to Osaka Universal Studios... full make up... I did wonder how they managed to go for all the rides, but they did with all their glory. Amazing!

I also noticed many do not wear sunglasses.

The Japanese women that I saw always dressed well. At the airport; shopping; subways... everywhere. Dressing well and looking like the beautiful women that they are is their birth right.

There were many pretty and very young mothers. Many did not look like they are out of their 30s... and they always have very adorable Japanese babies... they are so cute! They may just look young... I am not sure... Who knows? They certainly still looked after themselves after having kids. No letting go...

The very slim Japanese do snack... especially when I was in Osaka. Takoyaki... a ball-like Japanese snack with diced octopus in it, is very popular over there. They do eat standing up... and they love their coffee. In many restaurants, there are baskets on the floor, for you to put your bags in. It is legendary that there are many creative innovations in term of food and objects created cleverly by the Japanese.

In Japan, the clean restrooms even have buttons for you to push to dispel any unladylike restroom noises... I love that the seat is heated and they even have washing ‘facilities’. In some departmental stores' restrooms, there are baby seats for you to put your baby in the cubicle while you do your thing.

Once, my husband bought a whole wardrobe of shirts in a shop. After paying up, he wanted to carry the many, heavy shopping bags, but the petite salesgirls smiled and denied him vehemently to flex his muscles; as they insisted to bring the shopping bags and walked us up to the entrance of the shop, before passing us the loot and continued to keep bowing and smiling and thanking us, till we were out of sight. Impeccable service indeed! You just feel so justified spending all that money.

Once I was shopping alone and got lost. I approached randomly a staff in store; and you won't believe it, she not only came out of the store to direct me but actually walked half the way to my destination! And she kept bowing. Even when I tried to tell her I knew my way, she insisted on walking with me till the half-way mark. I was so impressed and humbled by her kindness and extreme politeness in this case.

It was also very safe for me to walk alone. Of course, I learnt a few essential Japanese terms. Essentially, ‘Ikura’... It means how much!

All in all, the lovely Japanese ladies really inspired me to passionately embrace my femininity.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

On living a low-key life

I read a book called My Friend Michael by Frank Cascio a while back, about Michael Jackson.  His life sounded so glamorous as it was filled with first class travel, the money to buy whatever he wanted, fabulous hotels where he booked out an entire floor, not to mention being an international celebrity.

But sadly we all know how Michael’s story ended.  As he grew bigger and bigger he began taking prescription medicines just to cope with the stress of it all.  Part of me wonders why he didn’t downsize his life and just enjoy what he had, but as it was all he had known from age 5, that thought probably didn’t occur to him.

Besides, you don’t get to be an international pop superstar by being a relaxed person who takes things in their stride.

As a side note, it was a fabulous book and I was really impressed by Michael’s goal-setting and visualisation that the author described so well.  The book is a good motivational tool.  I made heaps of notes!

I have a cousin who, having just turned 30 is an extremely successful businessman that lives literally all over the world.  He has two homes (Miami and London) and probably spends more time in hotel rooms and airplanes than he does in those.

He commented to a family member a while back that he feels sorry for me to be ‘stuck’ in our shop every day and never going anywhere.  I was quite astounded when I heard that as I have never felt this way and don’t consider our shop to be any different from other jobs I have had where I was obliged to show up at the office each day.  It’s just what I do.

An international life sounds glamorous and fun in theory, and I am definitely guilty of daydreaming when I see the celebrity photos of all the stars striding out from the airport gates (I have to process what they are wearing – cool sunglasses, check, leggings or skinny jeans, check, great jacket and loopy scarf, check).

But I am a home-loving person at heart who relishes routine and early nights, nesting and home-cooked meals.  If I even have too many late nights I am all out of sorts.

And to do all these things that I love you have to have a job or lifestyle that means you can live in the one city and be home at a reasonable hour.  I love that I spend each day in a familiar place and come to the same home each night.

When I go away on a rare holiday I just cannot wait to get home.  Heck, even when I am out for the day I cannot wait to get home!

So I guess it’s lucky I am not an international jetsetter then isn’t it?  But in the meantime I will enjoy perfecting the superstar travel uniform, just in case.

Image from

Monday, September 2, 2013

How To Look Expensive

I love thinking about the concept of dressing yourself in a way that conveys wealth and class in an old-fashioned sense.  Of course even money is no guarantee you will look good.  As we all know, extremely rich people can still look cheap.  There are plenty of walking testimonies, celebrity or otherwise, that you can look tacky even having spent plenty.  And there are those without much money but an innate sense of their own style who can look fabulously upmarket.

So what are the elements that make someone look quietly expensive?  Just for fun, here are my favourite ideas, gathered from internet searches over time, and also my own notes on when I feel good.  I have a few posts planned on this topic, with this first one focusing on our personal style.

Firstly, I think colour plays a big part.  To me, ‘expensive’ colours are neutrals, worn together.  Think a whole outfit in tones of caramel and cream.  Black and off-white or black and caramel are very stylish too.  In general black, navy, winter white, beige or caramel and red, and adding soft, muted tones of blush pink, sea-foam green, Tiffany blue and other such shades depending on what suits your colouring.  Colours I do not think are luxurious and wealthy are the lurid brights – neon pink, bright purple, yellow, orange.  Especially when paired with black.  I remember Trinny and Susannah saying once that putting black with a bright colour makes both look cheap.

Fabric-wise, I always think woven, or structured knits look more expensive.  Going the other way are floppy t-shirt knits or floaty boho type clothing.  Again, this is my personal taste in clothing coming out, but I always feel more pulled together in a pressed shirt and dark fitted jeans or a semi-fitted dress with simple lines.

Wearing classic styles, I consider to whisper money.  Luckily I love the classics and never feel more at home in a pair of well-cut jeans and a white shirt (to me, the Hamptons look), or in tailored black pants and a tuxedo front shirt or flattering black top with high heels if dressing up.

Shoe-wise, I love the classics too – the black leather ballet flat, white or navy canvas Converse sneakers (low-tops please, I’ll leave the hi-tops to the youngsters).  A perfectly pointed stiletto heel never goes out of fashion.  I always think chunky heels make a leg look chunky, even on skinny starlets.  Wedges ditto but there are some very cute wedges out there that are a bit finer, not so extreme that look pretty and well-bred.

I know tattoos are a big trend currently but I just think they look so vulgar.  In my opinion, there is no way anyone with class and style would have a tattoo, even a hidden one.  My husband often says a good business idea to get into would be tattoo removal, because there will be a lot of people wanting that in the future, and I have to agree.

Consider where you are going.  When I visit a dear friend in an old money part of town, I love dressing up in my most classic outfits, clothing I imagine I might wear if I lived there.  Without fail I always feel richest in my classic clothing.

Take notes on what others are wearing when you visit wealthy areas.  There is nothing I love more than (after dressing up) than taking a stroll around the shops, maybe try on some clothing or just have a look through the stores in fancy areas.  I notice the outfits and details others are wearing on the streets.  Funnily enough I am more interested in what the older ladies are wearing, I don’t know what’s up with that.  There is a different vibe in wealthy areas.  I like to absorb it and take it home with me.

Wearing big sunglasses I think imparts an air of mystery and glamour.  I have gotten out of the habit over winter but need to polish my favourite ones and start wearing them every day.  Plus they protect your eyes from the sun, which is important for both the eyes themselves, and also preventing wrinkles.  I adore aviators too, they look very luxe to me.

Attending to grooming is très important.  Even when at home by myself, and especially when out.  I have been perfecting my grooming regime over time, and by making myself do it even when I couldn’t be bothered it’s now become a habit, much like brushing my teeth, that I do it automatically.

I exfoliate and shave my legs in the shower every two days and wash my hair every second day on the alternate days so I don’t spend too long in the shower.  I apply body lotion every single morning on every part of my body I can reach.  Sometimes it is plain, and sometimes it matches my perfume.

I always wear perfume, even on a home day!  I wear it for me, so I am never without it.  Currently I enjoy having a variety to choose from.  I still enjoy my Chanel No. 5, and more recently Chanel Coco Noir (softer than you would think), however I have a wardrobe of inexpensive fragrances too, for everyday wear.

Painted nails suggest you have plenty of time to lounge around being attended to, but they also suggest you take care of yourself.  I always do my toes in the summer (I gave them a break this winter), but I haven’t done my fingernails in years as working in a shoe shop meant they chipped within one day.  I am inspired to try again with my fingers though.  I read that Butter London polishes are different and don’t chip, so I will try one of their colours.

For makeup, the wealthy look is le no makeup look, with not too much around the eyes.  A polished, natural glow, and a bit of bronzer.  Being so fair, I always look too orange with bronzer (even pale ones), which is a shame as I love the look on others.  So I go the peaches and cream route with a tiny amount of foundation and concealer, a dusting of translucent powder, pinky blush and glossy lips.  Groomed brows and a little eyeliner and mascara completes my look.

As I said before, even when I am at home I wear perfume and a little makeup (less than if I’m going to work).  Somehow it affects the way I act and how efficient I am throughout the day.  Even though I can’t see myself unless I pass a mirror, I feel like less of a slob!

Lastly is jewellery.  Keeping my real jewellery very clean ensures its sparkle and therefore the wealthy look.  If you don’t have jewellery cleaner, dishwashing liquid and a clean toothbrush will make it look beautiful.  Use on gold and all precious stones except for emeralds.  I squirt a tiny amount of dishwash on the toothbrush, clean my ring or necklace (including the chain) carefully and then rinse in warm water and dry.  You will be amazed how good they look.  Pearls just need a polish with a soft cloth and plenty of wear, as the oils in your skin keep them nice.

Actually, clean is probably is one of the biggest things in looking expensive.  Think pristine light coloured clothing, just-washed bouncy hair, sparkling jewellery and polished, clean shoes.

What else would you add to this list?
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