Wednesday, January 31, 2007

How to Tell if You Are Making Progress in Growing Thicker Hair
Also, hair terms to help you develop your own personal hair routine

Did you know that there is a way to measure how thick your hair is? If your hair is temporarily thin due to hair damage or a problem with your health, you can measure it as it is now. Then, after you have worked on your overall health and the health of your hair, you can measure it again. If your hair measures thicker, you will know you are making progress.

If your hair is in peak condition now, you may not be able to increase the volume. But, even so, measuring the volume will give you an idea of your hair's natural type. If you work with your type, you will be able to bring out your hair's individual beauty.

So, here's how to measure your hair's volume: If your hair is long enough, put your hair into a ponytail. It doesn't matter how long the ponytail is. Perhaps, your hair is sort, and you will only half a half-inch or so of hair sticking below the ponytail band. That's ok. Also, if you have short layers you may need to make the ponytail on top of your head in order to gather as much of the layers as possible into your ponytail. Don't worry if this ponytail looks funny. You're only wearing it for a minute in order to take a measurement. If your hair is long, make a regular ponytail at the back of your head.

After you have your hair in a ponytail, get out your tape measure. Measure around the circumfrance of your ponytail.

If the measurement you get is less than two inches (5 centimeters), your hair is thin.
If the measurement you get is between two to four inches or 5 to 10 centimeters, your hair is average.
If the measurement is greater than 4 inches or 10 centimeters, your hair is above average in volume.

Do not worry if your hair measures "thin". Thin hair can be lovely when styled correctly. However, do try to improve the health of your hair. Many a woman whose hair was thin or even normal has increased the volume of her hair by taking better care of it.

If you are trying to increase your hair volume, repeat the measurement every six months or so to see if you are making improvement. Remember, it will take some time for healthy new hairs to grow long enough to be included in your ponytail. So, growing volume is a long-term project. It may take you a year or two to see improvement.

Many people mistakenly call fine hair "thin". Fine and thin are not the same thing. In fact, some women with fine hair actually measure as above average in volume when they take the ponytail test.

Here's an explanation of what it means to have fine, normal, or coarse hair: These have to do with the texture, rather than the volume of hair.

Fine means that the individual strands are narrower. If you hold up a few individual strands to the light, they may appear almost translucent. Children often have fine hair. Also, many people of Scandanavian descent have fine hair. Fine hair can be some of the most beautiful hair in the world. If it is healthy, it will have a lovely sheen and a lovely color (frequently blondish). It will be soft and pleasing to the touch. However, if it is not cared for, fine hair is easily damaged. If it is damaged, it will look scraggly and brittle. Fine hair has its own special set of hair care rules. If you have fine hair, do some research to find out how to bring out your hair's distinctive beauty.

Medium hair means that the strands are neither fine nor coarse. It probably won't be as soft to the touch as fine hair, but it will be softer than coarse hair. If you have medium hair, you probably find that your hair is easy to manage. Don't take this ease of care for granted, however. Any type of hair needs a little TLC to maintain its health. Medium hair can be any color, but will likely be anywhere from dark blonde to dark brown.

Coarse hair means that the strands are larger in diameter. Though coarse doesn't sound like a pretty word, coarse hair is usually luxious and gorgeous. Like fine hair, coarse hair has its own special set of hair care rules. Also, like fine hair, it must be well-cared for in order to reach and maintain its full beauty. While coarse hair is not limited to any one ethnic group, it is often found in people of Mediterranean, African, Native American, and South American descent. Coarse hair can be found in many colors, but it is often a beautiful jet-black.

When I say that fine and coarse hair have their own sets of hair care rules, I mean that you should learn how to work with its particular properties. I don't mean that you need to spend a lot of time on your hair. In fact, if you know what works for your hair's particular type, you should be able to care for it with a minimum of fuss.

The next thing to know about your hair is whether it is straight or wavy or curly. That would seem to be an obvious distinction. But, people often fall somewhere in between one of two categories, and they may be confused about how to best care for it. For example, my hair is somewhere between straight and wavy.

A man named Andre Walker came up with the following classification to help you tell where you are on the straight to curly scale:

Straight Hair
1a - Absolutely stick straight
1b - Straight but with a slight body wave, just enough to add some volume. Hair in general does not look wavy
1c - Straight with body wave and one or two visible S-waves (e.g. nape of neck or temples)

Wavy Hair
2a - Loose, stretched out S-waves throughout the hair
2b - Shorter, more distinct S-waves (similar to waves from braiding damp hair)
2c - Distinct S-waves and the odd spiral curl forming here and there

Curly Hair
3a - Big, loose spiral curls
3b - Bouncy ringlets
3c - Tight corkscrews

Super Curly Hair
4a - Tightly coiled S-curls
4b - Tightly coiled hair bending in sharp angles (Z-pattern)

Another factor to consider is if your hair is oily, normal, or dry. Remember, the strands of hair are not living cells, and they don't produce oilness or dryness on their own. The scalp and hair follicles are what produces the natural oils that protect our hair. Sometimes, this gets out of balance. Also, wind and sun can dry hair strands, while humidity can make hair damp.

Why is it important to understand the texture, the volume, and the amount of curl in your hair? Most hair products are geared to a particular type of hair. Also, many hair techniques work better for one type of hair than another. If you understand your own hair's qualities, you can develop a simple hair care routine that will bring out your hair's individual beauty.


Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Modern Tips for Growing Beautiful Hair

Yesterday, I posted some tips I'd read from an Edwardian era article. Today, I thought I'd share some tips I've gleaned from modern hair experts. I've gathered these in researching how to improve my own locks.

These tips will work if your hair is short or long. They are especially important, however, if you are attempting to grow your hair long - or at least longer than the style you are currently wearing. Longer hair must be treated as if it were a fine silk fabric or an antique lace heirloom. This doesn't mean you need to spend a lot of time on long hair; in fact, shoulder length or longer hair often requires less ''fussing" than short hair does. But, when you do handle your long hair, you must do it gently, gently, gently!

1) Purists argue that our hair can neither be healthy or unhealthy, because it is composed of non-living cells. But, in truth, these non-living cells are formed from living tissue, and they reflect the general state of our health. They also reflect the specific health of our hair follicles. Nutrition, exercise, blood flow, stress, thyroid conditions, medications, hormonal changes, illnesses -- all of these things affect the way our hair looks and feels.

Purists' objections aside, we all know what someone means when she says, "My daughter has a healthy head of hair," or "My hair hasn't been looking healthy lately."

Our hair is so significant a clue to our health that doctors can diagnose certain medical problems by examining a few strands of our hair underneath a microscope.

Some people with long hair claim that they have a weak point in their hair -- a band of about a half-inch to an inch of weak growth all around their hair at a certain place down the length. They attribtute such a weak point like this to a month when they had the flu or didn't eat well or were under extra stress.

If you want to begin a regimin to improve the quality of your locks, begin by examining them in good (preferably natural) light. Once you have identified your hair's strengths and weaknesses, you will know what you need to work on.

2) In light of point one, the first key to having lovely hair is to attend to the basics of good health. Don't be a fanatic here. Just eat reasonably well, get fresh air when you can, exercise appropriately or at least move your body as you tend to your home or garden, rest when needed, and take a simple multi-vitamin/multi-mineral supplement.

Be sure to follow the new recommendations for having sufficient Omega 3 and Omega 6 oils in your diet. While we don't want to clog our arteries with too much fat, too little oil can interefere with our body's normal functioning, as well. This, in turn, intereferes with the health of our hair. Three signs that we may not be getting enough beneficial oils in our diet are brittle hair, brittle nails, and sagging, dull, unhealthy looking skin.

There are many hair vitamin formulations on the market, as well as suggested vitamin regimins for beautiful hair floating around on the Internet. If you are reasonably healthy and eat fairly well, you probably don't need anything more than a daily vitamin/mineral supplement. If you do decide to use a product specifically formulated for hair or if you want to follow a specific hair vitamin regimin, do your research. Also, check with your doctor before beginning. Some vitamins are toxic in excess, so be sure you know what you are doing.

If you notice a sudden change in your hair's texture, moisture, or thickness, consult your physician to see if there is an underlying medical cause.

3) The American Academy of Dermatology says that the first obvious sign of hair health is the shine. When hair shines, that means that the scales along the cuticle (the protective coating of each hair strand) are smooth and flat against the hair shaft. Becuase they are smooth, they reflect light. This is what makes hair gleam. When the cuticles are damaged by sun, chlorine, saltwater, dying, perming, straightening, or too vigorous a brushing, the scales become damaged and stick out, away from the shaft. This not only weakens the shaft, it makes the hair look dull. The rough scales do not reflect the light and the hair lacks luster.

You may risk a little cuticle damage in order to achieve a specific hair goal. For example, you may adore the lightening effect of the sun. Or, you may want the extra body that a perm can give your hair. Or, you may want to cover up gray with a dye. To you, it may be worth giving up a little shine in favor of attaining color or curl. If so, remember that these processes actually work by damaging your hair. When you repeat the processes over and over, the damage can multiply. So, be extra, extra gentle with hair that has been exposed to the elements or to chemical processes. In particular, be sure to condition it properly. If it becomes too damaged, try a hair style that will allow you to give your hair a rest from the elements or from the chemical processes for a time. At any rate, don't be disappointed if your processed hair doesn't have the same gleam as unprocessed hair. Accept the benefits of the chemical proccesses or sun exposure for what they are.

Brushing the hair too much or too vigorously can damage the scales on the cuticle, just as the elements and chemial processing can. That's why some experts believe that with today's better shampoos and more frequent washings, we should forget the old custom of brushing our hair one hundred strokes every mornig or night.

In a Victorian-era book I read, the heroine combed her hair to make it gleam, rather than using a brush. If you wear your hair down, you may want to run a wide-toothed comb through it a few times a day, rather than always relying on your brush.

4) Use natural boar bristle brushes and wooden combs. Wooden combs can be a little pricey, so you may have to save up your pennies to buy one. In the meantime, use a wide-toothed plastic comb. If you must use plastic, try to find one that desn't have any rough edges or seams. You may be able to smooth away a rough place with a little sandpaper or a nail file. The goal is to have a comb that will not pull roughly on your hair.

Natural hairbrushes are more affordable than good wooden combs. Goody's makes inexpensive boar bristle brushes. You can find these boar bristle brushes in drugstores, grocery stores, and places like Wal-Mart.

5) NEVER brush your hair when wet. When your hair is wet, it is at its most vulnerable. Use a wide toothed comb to get tangles out and to part your hair when it is wet.

6) After you wash your hair, don't rub a towel through it with vigor. Instead, gently press the towel up and down the length of the hair to absorb the dripping water.

7) Obviously, the ends of our hair have been around the longest of all the length of the strands. If you do have long hair, remember that the ends of waist-length hair represent four years of growth. In hair terms, that's a long time. So, be extra gentle with the ends of your hair. Trim the ends regularly to eleminate split ends. A split end weakens a hair strand and splits the shaft. Apply extra conditioner to the ends if your ends are dry.

Regular trims will also hold the line of your hair, thus keeping it from looking scraggly or falling as flat as it otherwise might. Short hair needs frequent trims. Have it trimmed every four to six weeks in order to maintain your style. If your hair is longer, you might be able to get away with having your hair trimmed only once every three to six months. If your hair is fine and long, you will need to have it trimmed more often than if your hair is coarser and longer. If your goal is to grow your hair long, find a hairdresser who will follow your directions to trim the ends only. A scizzor-happy stylist can easily snip away your efforts to get to a longer style. Remember, if you get your hair trimmed two inches, that represents approximately four months of growth.

Having said that, don't be afraid to have a couple of inches of damaged hair trimmed, even if you do desire to eventually reach a style that is longer than the one you are currently wearing. Going from a shorter style to a longer one takes patience. Remember, your goal isn't just length, but healthy length. There's only so much you can do to repair damaged hair. If you leave it in your length, it will always be a weak spot. If you want to end up with a "crowning glory", you may have to cut away problems areas first. Then, if you take care of your hair, the hair you grow will be healthy and strong. Think quality over length.

8) Your hair is programmed so that each strand has a certain life cycle. After that, it's pushed out of the way to make room for a new hair to grow. Thus, your head is always letting go of some strands and growing new ones. Losing up to about 100 hairs a day is perfectly normal. As mentioned yesterday, if you see a change in your hair's normal pattern or it comes out in clumps, then it's time to consult your physician.

9) Make sure the follicles of your hair have adequate blood flow. This means a) take care of your overall cardio-vascular health. b) take proper care to eliminate an overly flaky scalp c) gently massage your scalp, using the balls of your fingers and not your fingertips. d) get your heart pumping a little as you go about your work or you exercise and 3) brush your hair with your head bent over to let the blood flow to the scalp.

Advocates of the old 100 brush stroke method see brushing as a way to bring extra blood flow to your head. (You don't have to bend over for this method; you just brush gently down the length of your hair). If you are afraid of damaging your hair, you might achieve this with thirty or forty strokes instead of the full one hundred. I do use the 100 strokes method, but not every night.

10) Few of us today are prepared to completely throw away our blow-dryer. However, it's a good idea to experiment with different ways to do your hair so that you don't have to use a blow-dryer every single day. Try old-fashioned curlers. Or, learn how to scrunch your hair and let it dry naturally. Mature women should be especially careful when it comes to blow drying, as our hair tends to be thinner and more fragile than when we were younger.

If you choose to blow-dry your hair, you may find it helpful to use a diffuser. This is particulary true if you want to maximize your hair's natural wave or if you want to protect a perm.

11) If you are in the habit of washing your hair every day, try to stretch that out. See if you can go at least every other day or once or twice a week. Some people find that they can refresh their hair between shampooings by rinsing it with water. Or, they occasionally leave off the shampoo and use conditioner only. Neither of these methods works well for my fine hair. I put my hair back with clips or use some other method so that my hair looks decent for two or three days between shampooings.

12) When shampooing your hair, don't pile all of your hair on top of your head. That only causes knots. Instead, put the shampoo on your scalp, wash your scalp, and then work the shampoo down to the ends. If your ends are very dry, rinse out the shampoo so that it doesn't get on the ends. Or, put a little conditioner just on the ends before you begin the shampoo process. Then, once you've shampooed, use conditioner on the rest of your hair as you normally would.

13) If your scalp tends to be oily or normal, but your hair ends tend to be dry, don't put conditioner on your scalp. Instead, start it about ear length and work it down to the dry ends of your hair.

14) Sleep on a satin pillow case. Sally's makes these pillowcases. Or, if you can find a good satin or nylon material, you can make a similar pillowcase yourself. A satiny pillow case reduces the tug on your hair when you sleep at night.

15) You don't need to spend a fortune on hair products to have beautiful hair. I know many people with lovely locks who use shampoos, conditioners, gels, and sprays that you can buy in the drugstore. The key is to experiment until you find a product that works with your hair's texture and moisture level.

If a $.99 bottle of Suave makes your hair gorgeous, why spend twenty bucks on a salon brand shampoo? On the other hand, if you are having a specific problem with your hair, a stylist may be able to recommend a certain product line that will take care of it. In that case, you may decide the more expensive products are worth the cost.

You can also get some good products from a beauty supply store for a fraction of the prices that salons charge. If one of the clerks seems particularly knowledgable, cultivate an acquaintance with that clerk so that you feel comfortable asking the clerk for advice. Often, a beauty supply store clerk can give you good input about which products and techniques are best for your specific hair. But, make sure the clerk really knows what he or she is talking about.

If you find that you love a certain hair product but it ceases to work for you after a time, try using a clarifying shampoo once a week or so. This often takes care of any product buildup that may affect the way your favorite shampoo or conditioner works for you.

16) Hair attracts dust and pollen. Occasionally, this dust can make our hair look prematurely dirty, in which case we need to brush or wash it out. If your hair is long, your hair may even attract so much dust and pollen that it makes you sneeze!

You see; there was a reason why women of yesteryear tied kerchiefs around their hair or wore little house caps when they did housework. I seldom give a thought to protecting my hair as I tend my house and garden. One of my goals is to remember to take better care of it when I am working at home. I especially want to keep this in mind when cleaning something that is above my head. For example, I don't want to shower dust on my hair when using a long-poled duster to sweep away cob webs or to clean the ceiling fan.

If you find that your hair is attracting dust or getting damp and sweaty when you work, try putting it up. If it's too short to put up, try a forties style kerchief with the knot tied in the back.

17) Don't style your hair into a do so tight that you can feel it pulling. Many a woman has found her hair thinning, espeically at the temples, because a ponytail or an updo ripped the strands from their follicles. If you wear your hair up or in a ponytail frequently, learn how to do it properly so that you can prevent unneccessary pulling. Never use an ordinary rubber band. Use one that is coated and made specifically for hair. Scrunchies are sort of out of style now, but they are one of the most-hair friendly ways to pull your hair up in a ponytail.

18) Some sun highlights in our hair can be charming. But, as mentioned earlier, UV light does more damage to our hair than we realize. If you spend a lot of time outdoors, look for conditioners that offer UV protection. Or, wear a hat or a scarf over your head. Remember, if your hair is very long, you will have to put your hair up to get full protection from a hat.


Monday, January 29, 2007

Edwardian/Victorian Hair Care Tips from the Famous Aline Vallandri

Most of us have never heard of Aline Vallandri. But, in her day, Mademoiselle Vallandri was a famous singer who was also noted for her beautiful hair. It was described as forming "a veritable golden mantle about her and reaches to the very ground."

In 1912, she shared her hair care secrets with "Every Woman's Enclopaedia". Her insights are fun to read. It's especially interesting to compare her thinking about a woman's crowning glory with our thinking today. In the process of reading her musings, we might adopt a hint or two to help our own tresses gleam.

One thing that stands out is her day's norm for hair length compared to ours. She notes that as a child, she was not particularly noticed for having long hair. She said, "It was no longer than that of any of my companions. By the time I was thirteen or fourteen, it had reached my waist and many girls have hair as long as that."

Today, waist length hair is so rare in our culture that managing to grow thick, beautiful tresses beyond shoulder blade length attracts attention. To stand out in her day, Mlle. Vallandri had to grow her hair to the floor, a goal that most of us would not aspire to today. No matter what the length of our hairstyle is, though, we all want strong, shiny, healthy, and luxurious locks. I imagine every woman of every era has been interested in maintaining beautiful hair.

Mlle. Vallandri notes that her hair began to grow luxuriantly once she was sent to a convent to finish her education. One of the nuns there had a special lotion which she used for the hair. The nun gave Mlle. Vallandri the recipe for the potion, and she continued to use it throughout her life. Alas, Mlle. Vallandri declined to share the recipe with the readers of Every Woman's Encyclopaedia, and, thus, I have no clue what the secret ingredients were.

Mlle. Vallandri didn't feel that she was cheating her readers by keeping her hair potion a secret. She believed that every women could get a prescription from her own doctor, which if she persevered in using it, would make her hair grow thick and strong.

Hmm. If there was such a doctor around today, he'd be making lots of money!

So, we'll have to do without Mlle. Vallandri's secret lotion and look to her other hair secrets:

She said, "Greatly as I prize and value my gift, I am no slave to it, for I devote only about three quarters of an hour every day to its care. If women generally did the same, I have no doubt that in a short time they would soon notice an improvement in the condition of their hair."

Mlle. Vallandri believed the great essential for growing luxurious hair was to keep the scalp and the hair perfectly clean. However, to Mlle. Vallandri, clean hair did not mean frequent shampoos. In fact, she tried to stretch out the time between washings as much as she could. She felt that in dark, foggy weather, there was a lot of soot in the air which settled on the hair. So, she washed her hair a little more frequently in winter. However, in summer's lighter, fresher air, she was able to stretch the time between washings even longer.

Some people today are going back to Mlle. Vallandri's way of thinking. They are not so extreme as she was, but many women are trying to go a week or at least a few days between washings. I grew up during the days when we all washed and blew our hair dry every day. This may have been ok for adolescent hair, which is oilier than more mature hair and has stronger follicles. But, daily blow drying isn't the best idea for of women of adult age.

When Mlle. Vallandri did wash her hair, she let it air dry. She did not rub it with a towel, nor did she use the special hot irons that served as the hair dryers of her day. Nor did she use curling irons, which she believed overly dried out the natural moisture that is produced at the roots of a woman's hair. Her opinion was even stronger for having had a bad experience at the hands of a hair-dresser, who applied curling irons that were too hot. The irons burned a lot of the hair on the middle of her head, and she never allowed anyone to attempt using a curling iron on her hair again. I imagine that it took quite some time to air dry floor length hair. I wonder if that wasn't a reason -- in addition to her hair philosophy -- for her trying to stretch the time between washings.

I had a friend in college who would have been in sympathy with Mlle. Vallandri's attitude toward hair appliances. She had lovely, waist length tresses. She claimed that the secret of her beautiful locks was that she never, never blew her hair dry. She always let her hair dry naturally.

Rather than washing her hair frequently with water, Mlle. Vallandri sought to keep her hair clean through brushing. She owned more than brush. Once a brush had touched her hair, she did not use it again until it was thoroughly cleaned and dried. She may not have washed her hair every day, but she did wash brushes every day. She equated brushing your hair with a dirty brush to drying your face with a dirty towel. (Note to self: Clean brushes today!)

Every morning when she got up, Mlle. Vallandri's maid brushed her hair for half an hour. (Ok, the personal lady's maid is another of Mlle. Vallandri's tips that most of us will have to skip). Mlle. Vallandri's hair was so long that she had a stool made especially high just for sitting on while her maid ran the brush through her locks.

As we said earlier, in Mlle. Vallandri's day, the average woman had longer hair than the average woman does now. Hair that is labeled "long" today wouldn't have seemed so long to Mlle. Vallandri's peers. In order to keep such long hair naturally shiny and conditioned, it was necessary to brush natural oil at the scalp down the length of the hair to the ends.

Many people believe that today's shorter hairstyles have eliminated the need for long brushings. After all, even if your hair tips reaches shoulder length, that's not so far for the oil to travel from root to end. In addition, we apply conditioners and other products that substitute for our hair's natural oils. Thus, many hairdressers suggest that we should all forget the addage, "Brush your hair one hundred strokes a day". They believe that in today's world, brushing hair more than is needed to style it harms the hair.

However, other hair experts are still in favor of a good brushing to keep the scalp free of any flakiness and to stimulate the scalp. And, is there anything more relaxing than brushing your hair until it shines, either by your own hand or if you can talk dear hubby into doing it once in a while? Mlle. Vallandri notes that headaches can often be soothed by massaging the aching part and then brushing the hair.

I'm of the belief that if your hair is shoulder length or longer, daily brushings with natural hair britstle brushes can be helpful. However, as one who has baby fine hair, I believe it's important to brush hair every so gently. You don't want to break strands when you brush. A tale-tell sign that you are brushing too hard is if you hear strands "snap" as you bring the brush down the length. I've heard it said that you must treat shoulder length and longer hair as if it were fine, antique lace.

As Ms. Vallandri pointed out, dry hair is dull hair. Hair that is coated with the natural sheen that our body produces reflects the light. Thus, it appears shiny, glossy, and healthy. Greasy hair is also dull looking. So, hair that is neither too dry nor too oily is our goal.

Mrs. Vallandri said that "dressing" her hair or styling it only took fifteen minutes. That must have been quite a feat for putting up so much hair into a do.

Ms. Vallandri was a huge believer in having the ends of her hair trimmed regularly. She believed that split ends weakened the hair and that trimming them off allowed the hair to stay strong. In following the custom of her day, she had the ends singed with a lighted taper to further prevent split ends. Today, hair experts still believe in the regular trimmings, but singeing the ends is not as popular.

Mlle. Vallandri believed that if your hair is consistently too dry, it means that the little oil glands at the roots are not supplying enough nourishment. In such cases, she believed in supplementing by massaging a little brillantine into the scalp (not all over the hair). She believed that if you attend to your hair care routine, in time, your dry hair will correct itself and you can leave off the oil treatment.

Mlle. Vallandri refers to one of the Queens of France who was reputed to have kept luxiriant and youthful looking hair all of her life. Again, her secret was good brushings.

Mlle. Vallandri believed in consulting a doctor immediately when a problem with the scalp seemed worrisome. However, she did not fret over times when her hair seemed to fall out with greater frequency. She saw this as part of the normal life cycle of the hair.

Indeed, whenever we brush our hair, we loosen strands that were about to fall out anyway, and this can upset us if we don't understand that our hair is constantly falling out and renewing itself. Often, women will find that their hair is thicker during pregnancy, because pregnancy hormones affect this cycle. Three months or so after baby is born, however, they will see an increase in fall out and fear they are losing their hair.

Most likely, finding hair on your brush or comb is perfectly normal. However, if this suddenly increases or your hair is visibly thinning, you should consult your doctor. Also be aware that some medicatons, such as thyroid medicines, can interfere with hair growth.


Thursday, January 25, 2007

I took a test that Emma mentions on her blog: "Which Jane Austen character are you?" I was dearly hoping to be sweet and sensible Elinor Dashwood. But, I turned out to be Emma Woodhouse, with an almost equal dash of Marianne Dashwood thrown in for good measure.

So, I want to know how the test detected my secret urge to matchmake every single person who comes within my sphere of acquaintance? I do try not to act on that meddlesome trait. :)

And, how did the test detect that I, like Marianne, could do with a just a tad more sense and a little less sensiblity?

Hmff. The test must be rigged.

Really, it's a fun test to take, especially if you love Jane Austen. Check out Quiz to locate this quiz.


Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Using American decorative motifs.

You can re-capture some of the ambiance of America's colonial and Greek Revival period by encorporating traditional American motifs in your decorating. Actually, most of these motifs have continued to be popular throughout every period of our country's history and are at home in almost every decor. They can even be adapted to today's contemporary style of decorating.

Even if you don't live in the U.S., you may want to study these motifs. Many of them were used in Great Britian and Europe. Some would have been equally at home in Jane Austin's parlor as in Martha Washington's.

Obviously, the most distinctive American motif have a pattern reminiscent of our flag. Many people use these year round. Some people don't use them everyday, but they bring them out for Memorial Day, Labor Day, and, of course, the Fourth of July. An American flag motif is always at home in any style of American house. Please note: If you are displaying an actual flag, be sure to look up the traditions and regulations concerning the proper use of a flag.

The second most common American motif -- used in abundace during our federal and Greek Revival periods -- is the eagle. Please note the eagle needlework kit from Bruscilla above.

If you live in the South, you're already acquainted with the fact that Southernors have always considered the pineapple to be a symbol of hospitality. Note the pineapple above. It appeared on the outside of plantation home on the James River. Plantation owners in the South often had similar pineapples set on columns at the entrance to the drive to their home. Pineapples were and are used inside as well.

You will find pineapples in many of today's exteriors and interiors, as well. See the pineapple candleholders from Silicon Interiors above.

Pineapples are no longer symbols that are exclusive to the South or to Hawaii. Americans everywhere use them to say, "Welcome to our home."

At the same time that pineapples were first highly popular here in the U.S. as signs of hospitality, they were also somewhat popular in Great Britain.

When you decorate for Christmas, do you think of pineapples? If you live in Colonical Williamsburg's, you do. No one knows exactly how that custom got started, but it continues on to today. (Old Williamsburg seeks to keep a colonial ambiance, so they use lots and lots of natural Christmas decorations). See the Christmas wreath above for an example of how you can incorporate the pineapple into your Christmas decorating.

Because the pineapple gives its life to produce a single fruit, some people began incorporating pineapple designs into church buildings in the 1600's. Some speculate that that may be the reason Colonial Williamsburg came to associate the pineapple with Christmas.

Colonial womend decorated with shell motifs on furniture and tableware, family portraits, and samplers that the young ladies of the home made in order to perfect their skills with a needle. Many colonial homes, especially up and down the east coast, had items brought to the U.S. from Aisia and other exotic ports. Ginger jars, chinese porcelain, ivory, and scrimshaw are examples.

Here's an exotic bit of old South decorating: For some reason, many Southern farms and plantations used to keep peacocks, which were allowed to roam freely in the sideyards. I'm not sure how this very old tradition came to be; I've heard it dates from antebellum (pre-Civil-War days). When I was a child, I had relatives who still kept peacocks. We used to collect the feathers and put them in vases to make decorative arrangements.

Remember, if you seek to re-create a historically colonial or early American feeling, use accessories and decorating motifs with restraint. Our early homes were based on ideals of classic design. Also, if your decorating style is contemporary or sleekly modern, avoid over-doing decorative motifs. However, if your home has a cottage, romantic, or country-style feel, you can use any of these decorating motifs in abundance. Study photographs of rooms decorated in different styles to get a feel for what is appropriate for your home.

Even after our colonial and early American days ended, we continued to pick up distincly American decorating motifs along the way. While you need to be careful not to mix the following elements too freely, all have all been popular sources of decorative motifs in our U.S. history at one time or another: designs taken from Pennsylvania Dutch and Amish cultures, native American weavings and jewelry, African American fabrics and designs, Southwestern ranch motifs, furniture carved with rice motifs (especially in the Low Country South), furniture carved with wheat motifs, and various stencils of vines, hearts, etc.; furit, acorns, flowers, and birds.


Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Pampering, hats, and American roses....

DH gave me a gift certificate for a deluxe manicure and pedicure, which I just now got around to using today. Ahhh....I usually do my own nails, but enjoy a pampering a few times a year.

Afterwards, I went to Burlington Coat Factory and tried on hat after hat. I would like to start wearing more hats, but I have great difficulty selecting them. I'm also a bit self-concious, because few women around here wear dress hats, unless it's to a speicific occasion that calls for a ladylike hat. When I try on hats, I look like 1) Mary Poppins 2) Ma Ingalls 3) a bag lady or 4) an aging 1930's movie star -- "I'm ready for my close up, Mr. DeMille." I've figured out that I need some firmness in my hats -- no floppy maaterials. I need a smallish hat. I need a brim or a decoration with an upwards design. I found some that were darling, but just a little over the top for me to feel completely comfortable. Oh, well, I'll keep looking, so that I can find just the right hat to add to my collection. Oh, I did pick up a black beret, but it's not in the line of a dressier hat, as I had envisioned buying. Does anyone have any tips for wearing hats well?

In keeping with my theme this week, I wanted to talk about gardening with roses a la American style. Mother England begat in her American and Canadian children a love of roses. Roses have a reputation for being hard to grow. But, more and more gardeners are turning to old varities. These are more resistant than modern hybrids are to disease. They are often more fragrant than newer varieties. They give an ambiance of a lovely old garden. The only drawback is that they generally bloom only once or twice a growing season.

How do you know if a rose is an antique or heirloom variety? Some people date them as roses taht were grown in gardens before 1870, when the first hybrid tea rose was introduced. Since then, hybrid roses have been loved for their ability to bloom all season and for their beauty. However, in the past few years, there has been a resurgance of interest in older roses.

My grandparents house had a lovely old-fashioned rose that bloomed and bloomed. Even after my grandmother died and my grandfather grew too old to care about gardening, the rose thrived even with neglect. This shows how hardy the old roses are.

Texas, oddly enough, is a source for many nurseries who are seeking to grow and market the older roses. I'm sure you've heard the stories of pioneer women who carried rose bushes wrapped in wet cloths or burlap with them when they went to settle the west. The covered wagons only held so much, and women were encouraged to bring only those things which were essential for their new life. So, I imagine that these women must have valued these bushes highly to not only make room for them among their goods, but to keep them moist and alive throughout the arduous journey. Can you imagine a young bride dreaming of her new home and picturing a rose flowering by her door?

Of course, certain parts of Texas have a clime that isn't particularly favorable for roses, but the roses thrived in other parts. These rose bushes often lived on long after the original house of the settlers had been destroyed. Horticulturists have made it a point to go through Texas, searching out these abandoned homesteads in order to find the roses that our great-great-grandmothers grew.

How do you garden with old roses today? Many rose nurseries and web sites sell roses that are labeled heirloom or old or antique. Also, your local garden society can tell you about sources of old roses in your area.

Roses are specific to certain growing zones. So, if you live in the northern U.S. or Canada, be sure to select a rose that can stand the weather extremes in your area.


Monday, January 22, 2007

Williamsburg: Home of the American Garden

When you think of the quintiessential colonial American gardens, do you think of Williamsburg, Virginia? Williamsburg was the first capital of Virginia, which was perhaps the most prosperous and the largest of our thirteen original colonies. The town not only served as its government seat, but also as the center of Virginia culture, as well.

As cities go, however, Williamsburg looked more like a green, lovely, country town than did more urbanized cities like Boston. In old Williamsburg, this country-seat atmosphere has been maintained for us to enjoy today. Thus, we can learn a lot about colonial gardening from this popular vacation spot.

One reason that old Williamsburg was lovely then and now is that it was laid out in an orderly and charming plan. The colony's Lieutenant Governor, Francis Nicholson, envisioned a city growing neatly around an orderly grouping of public buildings. He saw each building as being related to his overall scheme. He dreamed of broad, straight streets and impressive, baroque style vistas, with lots of open spaces. According to baroque style, he wanted the landscaping and the public buildings to work together. His vision reflected the citizens desire for controlled growth. Such specific planning meant that the city developed in an organized fashion, rather than sprawling out as many American cities have done.

Interestingly, there was a certain movement in Europe during that time to revive more naturalized gardens. This new theory of gardening had absolutely no appeal to Virginians. After all, colonial towns and plantations and small farms were carved out of a vast wilderness -- a wilderness that still existed outside of their fences and could easily swallow them up again. Virginians had no need to re-capture a wilderness long past; they could simply look around them to see virgin forests and unplowed meadows.

So, American coloniests wanted reassurance that their wild land could be tamed. After all, their survival depended on conquering the wilderness. High on Virginians' list of gardening priorities was creating order and tranquility, which they valued as signs of civilization. They wanted to garden controllable spaces that were safely enclosed behind hedgerows and fences. Thus, when looking back to Europe for inspiration, Nicholson and his peers turned to the classic styles rather than to more modern naturalist movements.

This desire for order was all the stronger because Williamsburg was a decidely English town with conservative English values. (Remember, this was before the Revolution, when the government of Virginia was moved to Richmond). England, itself, may have been experimenting with new architectural and gardening ideas. But, eighteenth century Williamsburg residents held tightly to their own memories of England or the memories that were passed down to them by their parents. They clung to the England of William and Mary and sought to re-create it on American shores.

In keeping with conservative British outlook, little Williamsburg boasted some of the finest examples of Anglo-Dutch gardens in the thirteen original colonies. The town's citizens favored the old formal enclosed gardens and symmetrical layouts. They planted fruits, vegetables, and ornamental plants, whose seeds or bulbs they had brought with them from the old world Most of these plants had been grown in English gardens for hundreds of years.

Naturally, they also made great use of the edible and ornamental plants they discovered in Virginia. Thus, as in many places in America, the town's old gardens reflect a marriage of European and native plant life. Not only were native plants used in Williamsburg's gardens, many a Virginian was making a fortune off of a local plant -- tobacco. Those involved in the tobacco trade of that time could not look ahead and foresee the health problems that would follow as a result.

While Williamsburg was designing gardens in conservative English style, English gardeners were hungry for exotic plants from the Americas. So, throughout Virginia's colonial history, local gardeners and British gardeners corresponded with great frequency. Some of the letters and drawings they exchanged survive until today, giving us a window into what was going on in the gardening scenes of both the colonies and Great Britian. British and colonial gardeners also exchanged plants, bulbs, and seeds. Thus, many European plants were introduced to the U.S. and many American plants found their way to the old world.

In the U.S., we take plants such as black-eyed Susans, golden rod, and the fall-blooming aster for granted. In fact, for a long time, Americans thought of these as weeds -- particularly the golden rod, as it was said to induce hay fever. Yet, to the Europeans of the eighteen century, plants such as these were exciting treasures from a new world. (Of course, there was nothing new about these plants to native Americans. We are speaking from the point of view of Europeans, for whom the Americas represented a world that was yet to be fully explored.)

Just as Europe was eager to learn about species native to North America, they also adopted South American plants, such as potatoes and sweet potatoes. European gardeners then introduced these South American plants to North American gardeners, including those in Virginia.

The first gardens of any size in Williamsburg were the college yard in front of the oldest building at William and Mary College. It was a decorative, formal garden lined with topiaries. Again, this little college was surrounded by the predominately natural landscape of colonial Virginia. But, in keeping with Williamsburg ideas of gardening, it was a little spot of order and symmetry. Sadly, the garden disappeared right after the Revolutionary War, and we know of it only from written accounts.

Later, in 1710, Lieutenant Governor Alexander Spotswood arrived in Williamsburg. He built a monumental garden at the governor's mansion. This garden was more elegant and extravagant than any other garden in the settlement. The garden was well documented, so it was able to be re-created. Today, many gardeners look to Spotswood's garden for inspiration when designing gardens with colonial flavor. Like most Williamsburg residents, Spotswood equated gardens with civilization and with gracious living.

In the eighteenth century, botany and horticulture were favorite pastimes of the wealthy and the educated. Gentlemen in Virginia, like their counterparts in Europe and in the other American colonies, took a keen interest in gardening. They experimented with new methods of farming, as well. They kept diaries in which they recorded their studies of plant life and evaluated the success of their gardening and farming efforts. Two of our early Presidents, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, were Virgians who are almost as famous for their gardens and plantations as their politics.

For the ordinary settler, gardening was no gentleman's hobby. It was a means of survival. Though ordinary homes may have had kitchen gardens out of necessity, they were still planted along the symmetrical, orderly lines favored by the citizens of Williamsburg.

We take vegetable gardens for granted. But, at one early point during Virginia's development, a vegetable garden was viewed as something of a luxury. It meant that you had laid down roots enough to devote space and time to vegetables. These vegetables were valued sources of nutrition.

Since the gardens of Williamburg were typically enclosed, the plants were than and are now protected from winds and cold temperatures. Williamsburg is near the coast, which means that it has a milder climate than some parts of Virginia. One of the loveliest plants I saw on a visit to Williamsburg was a huge, old crepe myrtle that grew up against the shelter of the house. It was huge, and it's trunk was unnaturally large and strong. The protection it received allowed it to flourish. Of course, being a Southernor, I'm in tune to crepe myrtles and was curious to find such a lovely and strong one so far north.

If you've visited Williamsburg, you've also noticed that boxwoods became an essential part of the gardening landscape there. When it came to ornamental trees, colonists made use of the lovely species at hand: dogwood, redbud, magnolia, and caltpa. They used the elm, the chestnut, the poplar, the sycamore, the oak, and the pecan for shade.

Naturally, Williamsburg gardeners were interested in edible fruits. Native species that proved useful were wild grapes, strawberries, huckleberries, blackberries, and raspberries, and the local residents soon learned how to use them in the garden. Local fruit trees weren't to the settlers taste, so they introcuced apples, plums, pears, and other fruit trees from Europe.

If you're interested in creating a colonial style garden a la Williamsburg style, you can find books and pamphlets that will help you lay out your garden and choose plants. Of course, you will have to adapt it to your local growing zone. But, since Williamsburg is sort of halfway up our eastern coast, it isn't extremely Southern -- such as Charleston is -- or extremely northern -- such as Boston is. So, chances are you will find something from the Williamsburg garden to grow in your area.


Thursday, January 18, 2007

Decorating American Style Part II:
From Gothic to Colonial
Inspired by the painting "American Gothic"

Yesterday, we talked about the fact that European Gothic style was introduced in our earliest colonies -- dating back as far as the 1500's. Gothic style has continued to go in and out of favor in the U.S.

Perhaps that's why one of the most famous depictions of mid-western America -- our heartland -- is a painting entitled "American Gothic." Notice the steep angles on the roofs of the barn and the main house. Notice how the upstairs window of the main house is long and narrow with a pointed arch and panes set in a particular pattern. Those are all simplified versions of details that you might find on European Gothic buildings. The painting contains details inspired by the High Renaissance, as well, but the composition is basically "gothic".

This 1930's painting has been so identified with simple American style that it has been parodied in many forms. We've all seen numerous images of celebrities posing as the man and woman in the painting. Paul Newman, for example, has used this image in his line of foods.

Many people think that the artist, Grant Wood, was making fun of America's reputation for being "puritancial", "narrow-minded" and "repressed". Perhaps, this is because the expressions of the two subjects are severe, rather than smiling, and the lines of the bulidings are so straight and neat.

Yet, to accuse Wood of painting "American Gothic" as satire is to misunderstand his entire philosophy of art. Wood, himself, denied that he was in any way making fun of the mid-west. In fact, he was charmed by a Gothic style cottage he saw in Eldon, Iowa. He wanted to portray this cottage on canvas, and he asked his sister and his dentist to pose as a typical American farmer and the farmer's unmarried daughter.

Though Grant had studied in Europe, one of his intentions in painting "American Gothic" was to oppose European abstract art. Wood was a Regionalist -- one of many midwestern painters who sought to capture the flavor of his region's everyday life on canvas. Regionalists believed in using representational images, and they resisted the abstract movement of modern art. While each Regionalist had his own idiosyntric style, all were united in their humble, rural, conservative, anti-Modernist approach to painting. In "American Gothic", Wood was attempting to evoke a slice of the mid-west, not to poke fun at it.

The "American Gothic" painting is just one window into how America has been influenced by medival Europe's Gothic style. Since Gothic style has periodically influenced our culture, maybe we should define it. That way, we can understand its impact on our surroundings.

Gothic style flourished during the high and late middle ages. It was especially prevalent in Europe during the 12th to 15th centuries. We associate it most with great cathedrals, but it was used in homes and other buildings, as well.

The most notable elements of Gothic architecture are the pointed arch and high vaults. During the middle ages, architects developed the technology to build the high spires, the vaulted ceilings, and long narrow windows. As you can easily see, even from Grant's Wood's painting of a faint echo of Gothic style, the lines of Gothic style point upwards. Thus, Gothic style was a favorite of Cathedral builders. They hoped that the long, tall lines would inspire people to set their minds on things above, and not just on the earthly realm.

Gothic style was not reserved for Cathedrals alone, however. Forts, palaces, and ordinary houses and shops were built along Gothic lines. Many exquisite tapestries hung on Gothic walls, at least in the homes whose owners could afford them. These tapestires were not only decorative, they helped keep the builiding warm.

Gothic furniture was massive, with leather straps and iron hinges. The moveable chest was an important piece of furniture in Gothic homes. It could serve as seating, house treasures, and be easily moved in case the family needed to evacuate from a plague, a fire, or an invading army.

In the beginning, the Gothic styles of England, France, Holland, Italy, Germany, and Spain all differed from one another. They gradually moved towards a more international Gothic style. Our colonial history was greatly shaped by all of the countries I just mentioned, and you can see traces of their different styles in our architecture, furnishings and gardens.

While our earliest European settlers still clung to Gothic styles, they were truly children of the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment. The Renaissance, which means "re-birth", started in Italy and spread outward from there, reaching the British Isles last of all the European countries. Like Gothic style, each European country experienced the Renaissance in its own way. The Renaissance overlaps with Gothic, as it happened roughly from the fourteenth through the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries.

It's impossible to describe Renaissance style in one short article. But, one thing is obvious: The Renaissance bean the style of looking back to the classic days of Rome and Greece for inspiration. Furniture continued to be heavy and dark -- at least for a good while. Yet, new themes were introduced: shells, scrolls, amphoras, dolphins, festoons and garlands, vases, urns, and rosettes. Marquetry was also popular; it used squares of wood in interlocking shapes.

The Enlightenment was also dominated by an interest in neoclassical styles. In Europe, in the 17th century, Baroque furniture was popular. It was heavy, austere, and intended to evoke silence or a feeling of awe. In the 1700's, Baroque faded before Rococo, which was light-hearted, opulent, and delicately rounded in style.

Our colonists interpreted Gothic, Renaissance, and Enlightenment styles far more simply than Europeans did. In the beginning, this was out of necessity. Many people made their own furnishings or bought them from local tradesmen, some of which lacked the skills of their European peers. Settlers often had to sacrifice finery for the sake of practicality and frugality.
Many American colonists also had religious, moral, or philosophical objections to creating homes, churches, and public buildings that were too opulent. For many reasons, the rococo splendor of Versailles would have been out of place in Colonial America.

Even the colonies' wealthy aristocrats, who were building large plantations and fine houses with elegant furnishings, faced these dilemmas. These wealthy settlers created what I think are some of the world's loveliest homes, farms, and gardens. Yet, even the finest American colonial plantations were less grand than the country estates of European nobility.

Today, when we speak of "American Colonial style," we don't think about our early Gothic or even Renaissance influences. We think specifically of the British-inspired style that had developed in America by the 1700's.

By this time, recognizable elements of a typical British inspired American home were pitched roofs, a central entryway that led to a long, great hall, and evenly spaced windows. Furniture was less massive than the early Gothic styles, and had more delicate lines. American furniture makers drew from William and Mary (1689-1702), Queen Anne (1702-1714), Georgian (1714-1830) and Thomas Chippendale (1718-1779). But, they interpreted these styles in a uniquely American way.

The following excerpt from an article on Colonial style describes common colors used in American colonial interiors: "In the less affluent Colonial homes, earth-toned colors were most often chosen. White, creamy yellows, almonds, ochres, reddish and chocolate browns, beiges, taupes, and muted greens were common. The pigments and dyes came from native plants, soils, and minerals.

In affluent homes, color choices were broader. Because blue pigment was rare and therefore expensive, it was a color many people aspired to. It became one of the signature colors of the era.

Also common were various shades of green, ranging from clean pastel, sea and grass shades, to deep muted olives. Pinks were also popular—especially in bedrooms, dining rooms and parlors. Red was most often used as an accent color, notably inside cabinets and china hutches.

Shades of gray, black and deep brown were employed for wood trim and floorboards, and were common to nearly all homes."

Some colonists carted china and silver with them to the new world, or they paid to have it shipped to them. But, many Colonial homes used heavy pewter or wooden tableware. If you are seeking to create an authentic Colonial look, be sure to use lots of pewter dishes and accents.
American Colonial style fell out of favor right after our Revolution. However, it experienced a revival in the 1880's. I am not sure, but I imainge this was because we celebrated our Centenniel in 1876 and people were sentimental about our beginnings. Since the 1880's, American Colonial style has never truly gone completely out of fashion. It was especially popular durng the early sixties and it came round again at the time of our Bi-centenniel in 1976. American Colonial is a traditional style that always seems right. No matter what other styles are in vogue, you can always find paints, fabrics, and furniture to create a Colonial theme in your house.

Keep in mind, that while British inspired styles were predominant in our Colonial Days, many places were heavily influenced by France, Spain, Germany, and Holland, as well. So, if you love French style, you can create a Colonial American French themed home if you desire. Or, you may be more inspired by early colonial Spanish homes.

Still, if you want to evoke what we think of as "American Colonial", study the British inspired styles of New England and Virginia.

Note that Gothic and Renaissance styles have ebbed and flowed in our country's history. Both have experienced several revivals. In the late 1800's, middle class and wealthy Americans reinvetned Gothic style and took it to a whole, new, ornate level. They favored heavy, elaborately carved furniture, Gothic and Renaissance inspired stained glass windows, and heavy drapes and bed coverings. Unlike the original Gothic houses, Victorian rooms were filled with large numbers of sentimental and decorative bric-a-brac.

Right after the Victorian age, there was a decided backlash against the "fussiness" of Victorian Gothic revival. People pulled down their heavy drapes to let more sunshine in, and they exchanged heavy Victorian furniture for lighter styles.

Later, Americans revived their interest in Gothic and Renaissance styles. They have been espeically popular in the last few decades. Today, even homes that are meant to be contemporary in style pull togther various design elements from Gothic and Renaissance styles.

We often think of America as being a young country. Perhaps, we are. But, we mustn't forget that we have a rich colonial history, as well as many long and deep ties back to the old World. We also mustn't forget that native Americans had their own ancient cultures, which influence our American style as well.

Around our Bicentenniel, a new American style was born out of our unique heritages. It was quickly dubbed "American Country". American country is a fun, eclectic style with lots of whimsical furniture and decorations. Though it is inspired at heart by rural America, it is much more playful than the real, traditional American farmhouse. Originally, American country stuck pretty much to traditional Americana or to Southwestern styles. But, it continues to evolve.

Lovers of American Country style sometimes borrow elements from French Country or British Country. But, we have to be careful here. True French and British country styles evovled from the way that the upper classes in those countries decorated their country mansions. American country, however, is meant to be reminiscent of an average American farmhouse. So, be careful not to borrow from traditional English or French country styles in a way that clashes with American Country's folksy message. If you do borrow English or French elements, be sure to think humble farmer's cottage and not country manor.

Cottage style is similar to American country. A main difference is that American Country style is based on the farmouse. Cottage style, on the other hand, evokes images of a little hideaway by the sea or a cozy little home behind a rose-covered white picket fence. Most cottage style is feminine and romantic. Some cottage decorating is rustic and masculine; like a vacation cabin in the Adirondacks.

Surprizingly, romantic cottage style allows you to borrow just a little more freely from Britian's and France's elegant, refined country styles. England's Chintz fabrics, France's lovely toiles, and both countries' lovely tea things look surprisingly at home in romantic American cottage decorating. Paintings or prints from Britain's and France's romantic heydey also blend in with a romantic cottage look. Of course, you still have to be careful not to overdo it to the point that you lose the cottage feel. And, these things don't work at all if you are creating a rustic cottage style.

Well, how do you pin American homes and gardens down to one style? You don't. America's population comes from all over the world. You can find an Americanized version of almost every culture there is. Also, some Americans love deocrating that evokes the past, while others are at home with everything that is as modern as can be. And, many of us are at home with an eclectic and fun mix of this and that.

So, whichever style suits you...


Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Decorating American Style

For those of us who live in the U.S., we have only to look around at our gardens, our public buildings, and our private dwellings to see influences from all over the world. Naturally, many European countires were major players in our country's development. Here are some styles that Americans adopted from Europe and made uniquely their own:

1) Earliest Colonial: The earliest European settlers in the U.S. were still influenced by the medieval age. This is particularly true of those who came from Great Britian and, in New York, from the Netherlands. As a result, most people say that earliest Colonial furnishings are Gothic in style.

The Windsor chair, a perennial American favorite, is an example of how Gothic style found its way into American homes. A Windsor chair is somewhat more delicate looking than many Gothic furnishings, but it is Gothic inspired, nontheless.

In general, earlist colonial homes and furnishings were simpler and even cruder than their European counterparts. American colonists also adapted local woods, dyes, plants, etc, in establishing and furnishing their homes.

Florida's St. Augustine is the oldest continually inhabited city in the U.S. Naturally, it reflects Spanish architecture, furnishings, and gardens.

France settlers left a refined mark on early American architecture and styles. Places like Savannah and Charleston reflect the delicate curved, rococo styles of the French renaissance. In Savannah and Charleston, beautiful enclosed gardens were the norm. "Low country" styles reflect a blend of Great Britian, France, and, to some extent, Africa. Houses were often adorned with delicate grillwork.

New Orleans was a melting pot of France, Spain, Great Britian, and Africa. Obviously, the French influence was the greatest.

2) Refined colonial: As American colonists became more established and more prosperous, colonial furnishings became more and more refined. The Georgian style from Great Britian was popular. Georgian style used a lot of classical details from Greece and Rome. It was heavy in p;roportion and detail. Georgian style is popular in American even today.

3) Greek Revival/Federal style: American federal style is our intepretation of Greek Revival. While European styles may have inspired a return to classical Greek and Roman architecture, Americans took the style to heart! Since we based our new and independent republic on Greek and Roman ideals of government, it is only natural that we expressed this in architecture, furnishings, and gardens. Even today, many of our public buildings -- such as court houses - are in Greek Revival style. Duncan Fife is one of our most famous federal furniture makers. Many lovely antebellum mansions have porticos lined with beautiful Greek columns.

3) Gothic Revival: The late Victorians resurrected Gothic styles, which were seen in lots of stained glass, pointed arches, and tracery ceilings. In one sense, Gothic never really goes out of style here in the U.S. The recent interest in late Victorian-era style has indirectly brought about a new revival in Gothic architecture and furnishings.


Monday, January 15, 2007

In Keeping with the Holiday, Here Are Some Interesting Quotes from Martin Luther King

Was not Jesus an extremist for love: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." Was not Amos an extremist for justice: "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream." Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: "I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus."
Letter from
Birmingham Jail 1964

We be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremist for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary's hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime---the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jeans Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.
Letter from
Birmingham Jail 1964

Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise? l am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson and the great- grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.

There was a time when the church was very powerful in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being "disturbers of the peace" and "outside agitators"' But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were "a colony of heaven," called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God intoxicated to be "astronomically intimidated." By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests.

Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Par from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent and often even vocal sanction of things as they are.
Letter from
Birmingham Jail 1964

If a man is called to be a streetsweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the host of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great streetsweeper who did his job well.

Violence as a way of achieving racial justice is both impractical and immoral. It is impractical because it is a descending spiral ending in destruction for all. It is immoral because it seeks to humiliate the opponent rather than win his understanding; it seeks to annihilate rather than to convert. Violence is immoral because it thrives on hatred rather than love.

A man who won't die for something is not fit to live.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Purple Fence

When our children were babies, we bought a home in neighborhood that had been built about thirty years before. Many of the houses, including ours, had large, fenced back yards. A few had fences around the smaller front lawns, as well. But, all of the fences in the neighborhood were low, as was the style of fencing when the neighborhood was originally built. They were all just about the right height for the proverbial chat across the fence with your neighbor.

We were very curious about one particular fence. It stood between two houses on the main street of our neighborhood. The fence was taller than the houses it separated. I think it was made of thin plywood sheets nailed together, but I'm not sure Whatever material it was made from, it was solid! And, it completely blocked either house's view of the other. On the side closest to the entrance of the neighborhood, it was grayish. We were even more puzzled when we were when we discovered the opposite side was painted a deep purple.

You couldn't miss this fence, since it stood so near the main entrance of the neighborhood. In time, we came to accept this huge, solid fence as just being part of the landscape. Personally, I thought the fence was an eyesore, but I assumed that the owner of the fence must have had some good reason for building it.

Finally, after we had been in the neighborhood for quite a while, we learned the story of the fence:

Originally, the houses were separated by a fence of normal height. One house was owned by a family with young children. In the course of playing their ball games, the kids would occasionally send a ball over the fence into the neighbors' yard. The neighbors' on the other side of the fence resented this. So, they asked the first set of neighbors to ask their kids to be more careful. But, the kids accidentally sent another ball over, and the neighbors complained about that, and so on and so on. Finally, one of the families developed a long-term grudge toward the other one. That family decided to get by erecting a huge fence and painting the side toward their enemies an ugly shade of purple.

By the time we lived in the neighborhood, the children must have either grown or they quit playing ball. I don't remember seeing any children around either house. But, there the fence still sat. And, it made both yards look ugly.

Perhaps, the family who erected the fence got their point across to their neighbors. But, in doing so, I can only assume that they hurt themselves, as well. Can you imagine looking out of the windows on that side of the house, only to see this huge, ugly, sun-blocking barrier? It would have made me feel positively claustraphobic. And, I'm sure it diminished the property values of both houses: Who would want to move into a house with such an ugly fence standing in the way? Not only that, but the fence would be a constant reminder of their hatred. Was their grudge worth losing the friendship of their next-door neighbors and the good estimation of the whole neighborhood?

We moved from that town many years ago. I hadn't thought about that purple fence in years.

Then, I read this today: "A feeling of hatred in time gives birth to a spirit of vengeance and retaliation. Many years ago, in a fashionable district in Brooklyn, a woman developed such intense dislike for her neighbor that she had a fourteen-foot wall built around her property. Before long, her own flowers and shrubs withered and died from a lack of sunlight -- while her neighbor's bloomed in all their beauty. Vengeance is a boomerang which returns with more venom than it sends forth. Even the world loses respect for the spiteful person." From "You can Be Beautiful."

I don't know if the second story is real or is just an illustration. But, I have seen a real-life 14 foot fence -- that ugly purple-gray fence near the entrance of our neighborhood. In thinking about it today, I have made the following "note to self" : Do not go around building ugly purple-gray fences in your heart. Nursing bitterness doesn't heal the hurt and only punishes you."

Fortunately, I also have a happy fence story from that same neighborhood: The backyard fence between the neighbors on our left side and our property was lined with blackberry bushes that produced the largest, sweetest, most lucious fruit. The neighbors' children were all grown. They had fewer mouths to feed, and the woman of the house had canned what must have been a liftime supply of blackberry jam. The couple had lost interest in the bushes. So, they told us to help ourselves to as many blackberries as we pleased. Our young family enjoyed many a cobbler and many a jar of jam from the bounty. We greatly benefited from the bushes our neighbors had planted years before we ever moved in.


Wednesday, January 10, 2007


Next to love, respect is an essential quality to cultivate in ourselves and, also, to cultivate in our children.

God meant for respect to be a blessing in our lives. A healthy respect and fear of the Lord helps us to draw close to him. It is our safeguard, keeping us from choosing paths that would destroy us physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Likewise, respecting godly authority brings about peace. And, if those who are in authority respect the people they lead as being made in the image of God, that will prevent them from abusing the gift of leadership.

Sometimes, we have bad experiences in the realm of respect. Perhaps, we have been teased and disrespected by peers. Or, we have suffered at the hands of abusive authority. Or, we just plain old don't want to give up our will in a situation for the sake of something better.

Here's a thought from Raising Awesome Kids in Troubled Times: "Our position of honor and authority as parents is givng to us by God. Our authority does not come because we are perfect -- it is because God in his wisdom has arranged it this way. For our children to honor us is to show honor to God and his plan. As our children come to respect our authority, they elarn to respect God, hismelf; and, then, one day, when they are old enough, they will give God the ultimate honor of committing their whole lives to him."

To me, this is a key to respect. It's vital to understand that by respecting authority, we are actually demonstrating our trust in God. We trust that ultimately God is working everything out for our good and that he will take care of us. This is true, even if the authority in question may not have a character that is naturally worthy of respect. Of course, we must balance this by remembering that we must respectfully choose to obey God rather than follow a command or example that is ungodly.

By the same token, we may be reluctant to ask others to respect our leadership. This is particularly true of parents. We know our own weaknesses, and we know our children know our own weaknesses. Realizing that we are not perfect is a good thing, provided that we don't let it paralyze us. The key is to be open and honest about your struggles, but depend on God to help you make whatever decisions you need to make for the good of those you lead. After all, we may reluctantly buckle down under arrogant leadership, but we truly respect humble leadership from the heart.

The authors of Raising Awesome Kids say, "Sometimes, we as parents lack confidence in dealing with kids. We feel guilty and inadequate. We become tentative. We suggest, pead, argue, wheedle and cajole. Our children sense our self-doubt, and they become more and more defiant. They also become less secure because what they really want down inside is the confidence that comes from knowing where their limits are. They want us to put a fance around them -- a fence that tells them just how far they can go. We need to put up the fence and tell the kdis exactly where it is. They will try to run through it to see if it is real. LEt them hit it a few times. They will soon learn taht the fence is immovable but that within it they have total freedom and security. Then you will have respect!"


Tuesday, January 09, 2007

(Fun and Frugal in January)

Thinking seasonally is one of the best ways to save your money and use your time wisely. In keeping with that idea, here are some ideas to make the most of January:

1) First, let's mention the obvious: now's the time to pick up holiday decorations at greatly reduced prices. You can save a lot if you buy Christmas cards and wrapping paper, now, as well. Even when I'm out and about this late in January, I still see some Christmas items on sale in the stores around here.

Another obvious bargain at this time of year is containers for organizing and storing items. Retailers know that most of us are eager to straighten up after the holidays. They also know that most of us start the new year with resolutions to get our lives in order. As a result, the stores offer sales on all kinds of storage containers.

Around here, I've been snapping up the cutest boxes on sale at Burlington coat factory. The boxes come in several themes and color schemes. For example, one set is in a pink rose pattern; another is coordinated around a 1920's Paris dress shop. In each scheme, there are hat boxes, boxes with handles shaped like small suitcases, boxes made to look like little steamer trunks, stationary boxes, etc.

I bought two hat boxes to actually use for hats, although I'm sure most people buy them to store other items. And, I bought a suitcase shaped box with a handle in which to store all of my letters and cards that DH has given me through the years -- after 26 years of marriage, in addition to our courtship and engagement, I need a fairly large size box to hold these treasures. I bought a very small round box with lid in the colors of my bedroom to hold hair pins and the like. I set it on my dressing table.

I am hoping the store's large supply of these containers lasts for a while, as I can not afford to buy them all at once. I work in buying one of these pretty, inexpensive storage items here and there.

2) Most of us also know that January is traditionally the month of "white sales". If you are looking to create a romantic bedroom or to stock up on towels, sheets, and other linens, now is a great time to shop! Among items to look for are high quality, high-thread count sheets. Do your homework, though. Just because a vender says it is offering a white sale doesn't mean that their prices are true bargains.

3) Remember that the retail world lives at least one season ahead of the true calendar. Stores are pushing the next season's merchandise earlier and earlier each year. I was flabbergasted when our local grocery store started putting out Valentine's Day goods a couple of days before Christmas!

You can use this seasonal push to your advantage, especially when it comes to clothing. If you live in the northern hemisphere, blustery winds may have you longing for a new coat or a pretty sweater. Merchants, however, already have their minds on "cruise wear" and spring fashions. They are eager to unload any winter merchandise that did not sell for the holidays, and you will find huge sales on winter clothing right now. (Reverse that thinking if you live in the Southern hemisphere).

In certain parts of the U.S., we had an unusually warm fall. I have read that this may result in even better sales on winter clothing this year. When the weather stays warm, consumers are less interested in buying wool skirts, sweaters, scarves, gloves, coats, etc. So, retailers are likely to have an even larger number of winter items than usual on their shelves and racks. All of these must be moved out to make way for spring clothes, so the extra stock is heavily discounted. And, it seems that this is timely; the weather experts are saying that our delayed summery phase is over and that we will start experiencing true winter weather.

If you sew most of your own clothing, look for similar deals on fall/winter fabrics and patterns.

4) Don't forget the grocery store when it comes to saving money in January. You will be able to find great savings on holiday meats, such as turkey and ham. Cook a turkey or ham and slice and freeze the meat in small packages to be pulled out for recipes or sandwiches. Or, simply freeze the turkey or ham until you are ready to use it as the main entree in a meal. Jams, chocolates, and other items that were meant to be Christmas food gifts are on sale now. Be careful here, as most were probably over-priced to begin with. But, if you shop wisely, you might be able to snap up some treats for your family at vastly reduced prices.

Look for great prices when it comes to citrus fruits and winter root vegetables. (Again, if you live in the Southern hemisphere, reverse your thinking to accord with your area's seasonal pattern). You can often save money by plannning a whole month's menus around whatever is in season in your area, even if -- ironically -- your chain grocery store ships this produce in from somewhere else.

5) Applicance manufacturers introduce their new lines in the spring. During January through March, they mark down their current stock in order to move it out to make way for new stock. Now's a good time to buy washers, dryers, refrigerators, etc.

6) While you're installing that new applicance, think of painting the room where you're putting it. Paint is often on sale at this time of year.

7) January is often a good time to pick up bargains on winter sports items. Additionally, this is off-season for some vacation spots, and you may find reduced rates for hotels, tickets to local attractions, etc.

Using your Time Wisely in January:

1) Again, let's mention the obvious before we move on to other things: Now, is the time to do some planning for the year. Be sure to include a plan for tackling re-organizing or spring cleaning or some other home improvement endeavor in little bits, so that you aren't overwhelmed by all that you want to accomplish. Think in terms of a year or two years out when setting goals.

Sometimes, we know we want to change something, but the change at hand seems nebulous and overwhelming. For example, let's say you want to do a thorough cleaning of your bedroom. You will find it easier to accomplish if you break down that goal into small steps and give each step a reasonable timeframe. For example, I will go through my closet and give away everything that I no longer wear by Janaury 31st.

I find that I do better with goal setting when I keep in mind the old saying, "Man proposes, God disposes". I pray and plan, but I remind myself to be flexible if the Lord moves events in a direction I had not forseen. Sometimes, even small things pop up can move us away from our goals. If we aren't surrendered to God, we can find these little unexpected happenings to be very frustrating. But, if we remember that God's plans and purposes are always good, we can accept the changes and adjust accordingly.

2) For the serious gardener, now's a great time to plan your spring/summer gardening goals. If you live in an area where the weather isn't condusive to getting out in the yard, you can use the time you might usually spend in pottering about in the garden by reading seed and garden catalogs.

If you live in an area where the weather is mild, as I do, you may be able to accomplish some lawn/garden tasks on warmish, sunny days. Our local paper provides a monthly calendar of things to do in the yard and garden for our local growing zone. The calendar is even more specific than the general guidelines for our Growing zone and it is geared to the few counties in the paper's reading area. Be sure to check a similar resource to make the most of your gardening efforts.

If you are ultra-serious about gardening and you live in an area where you experience hard winters, you may be able to extend our gardening season through cold-frame gardening.

Again, if you live in the Southern hemisphere, your gardens and yards are probably coming into their peak. Please go outside and smell the roses for those of us who are in winter now!

3) Now, while you're in the planning mode, think through the tools and appliances you will be using in 2007. This is a good time to clean and repair tools. If you would like to do a lot of sewing this year, for example, make sure that your sewing machine is in good order. Stock up on needles and notions.

Get your gardening tools ready before spring comes to your area. Does your lawnmower need to go to the shop? Are the blades on your garden shears rusty or dirty? Take care of these things now, while the days are cool. When warm, sunny spring comes, you'll thank yourself for having your gardening gear ready to go.

Remember, nothing is worse than starting a project, only to wrestle with poorly maintained tools or machines. If a tool or machine breaks from neglect, that's more frustrating still. You can save yourself a lot of headaches by keeping your tools in working order.

If you think it would be best to wait until later in the year to do maintenance on a tool, machine, or appliance, jot a reminder to yourself on a calendar page. For example, you could make a notation on June's calendar page to take care of a certain item.

4) Spring cleaning came about because older methods of heaing a home produced lots of grime over the winter months. This grime stuck to walls, furniture surfaces, drapes, floors, windows, and ceilings. Also, our foremothers of generations and generations passsed did not have the access we do to running water inside of the home. Nor, did they have vaccuums. So, when the winter snows were past, its no wonder that great-great-grandma cleaned every inch of her house.

For that reason, some people no longer do a thorough deep cleaning, but prefer to keep things fairly neat and clean as they go along throughout the year. Cleaning expert Don Aslett suggests that modern homes get the dirtiest during the summer, when people track in dust and pollen after outdoor activities. I think that may be true, here in the South, where we don't have to fight as much slush from snow and ice as other parts of the country. But, I would imagine that areas with heavy winters a lot of dirt may be tracked into the house from slush and snow. At any rate, Aslett suggests that we modern home keepers should do our deep cleaning during the fall.

Aslett's advice may work for some. But, I have an idea that spring will always awaken a desire in our hearts to make our homes clean and fresh. There's no time like spring for airing out the house or cleaning windows or sunning mattresses.

What we can do, in today's world, is to get a jump on spring cleaning by starting in January. Since we don't have the winter grime buildup that great-great-grandma did, there's no reason why we can't start cleaning out drawers and closets or polishing cabinets. If we start now and work little by little, we won't have to do all of our deep cleaning in one exhausting whirlwind. Plus, with many tasks out of the way by the time spring rolls around, we will have more time to enjoy sunny and balmy days.

5) Now is a good time to remember the elderly, people who are shut in with illness, and the poor. Sometimes, these people receive a lot of attention during the holidays, when people are focused on being charitable. But, they are forgotten once the holiday spirit passes.

Have a great January!