Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Days of our Lives

Teach us to number our days that we may present to thee a heart of wisdom Psalm 90:12 NASB

Many years ago, I read in a book called "Creative Counterpart," about a woman who took this verse literally. When this woman was thirty, she chose a number based on the average lifespan for women at that time -- seventy.

She asked herself, "If I live to be 70, how many days would I have left on this earth?"

She was surprised by how tangible the answer was! 14,600 days!

If we set out to count 14,600 jelly beans, we'd think that was a large number. When it comes to the days left in a lifetime, however, that figure doesn't sound so numerous; does it? It's a number that we can actually get our minds around.

What if you break it down even further? What if you counted how many Mondays you would have if you lived forty more years? If I did the math correctly, a thirty year old woman who lived to be seventy would have 2,080 Mondays left!

This woman was inspired when she first "numbered" her days. She was excited about living them well. However, she soon forgot all about the experiment She re-did it a few years later, and found that the number of days left until age 70 had reduced to 12,000 days.

"Where did they go?" she wondered. "What did I do with those 2,600 days?"

I can so relate to that woman's comment! When I first read Creative Counterpart, I did the same experiment. That was 20 years ago, at least. This illustration impacted me, and I remembered it from time from time to time over the years, but not on a daily basis.
Meanwhile, it seems that some weeks and months do zip by at lightening speed.

My days are full and rich, and it always seems to me as if our family packs a lot of living into a year. In one sense, I look back and I think about all we've done, and I can't believe that it's only been a year since a particular occasion. In another since, I am always amazed when another birthday pops up or another holiday season rolls around.

"It seems like we celebrated last Thanksgiving just the other day," I'll think, as I'm buying the turkey for this year.

Today, I took this book off the shelf and happened to flip to the same page where the author described the woman who numbered her days. So, I decided to do this exercise again.

Here's my math. Since lifespans have increased, I chose to work with the number 75 instead of 70. That puts me at 8,395 days if the Lord wills that I live so long. And, that puts my Mondays at only 1,196!

Of course, none of us knows how many days we each have available to count. The Lord has determined that. And, I don't think he intended this verse to mean that we should literally try to estimate our lifespan.

But, this exercise does illustrate a point that we all know in our heads, but sometimes fail to grasp in our hearts: Life on this earth is brief. If we are smart, we will invest our treasures in the next world, rather than in this one. We will make the most of every opportunity to love God, to love others, and to shine as a light in the darkness. And, we will be patient, knowing that every day -- whether it is full of joys or it is a trying one -- is bringing us closer to home.

I suppose this is a timely thought for me, as my 87 year old father is recovering from emergency service at our house. In the process of taking care of him, I have been around many more older people than I normally would be. At the same time, my parents-in-law are moving into a retirement community.

Besides, I've just had a birthday, myself. I'm well into middle age. I'm not as young and strong and healthy and mentally sharp as a twenty year old. I can feel that in my physical body and in how long it takes me to remember things. Yet, I'm also younger and stronger and quicker in mind than I might be at some point in the future.

God is giving me a window into the aging process. The experience is helping me appreciate and value the older people in my life even more than I have. And, it's inspiring me to think about how I'm investing each day.

We all have moments when we sense with all of our being how fleeting the time is. Perhaps, we come across a photograph of our parents when they were young. Or, an athletic feat that seemed so easy when we were seventeen now leaves us aching. Or, our precious little boy reaches his first birthday or his tenth or his twentieth. Or, we wonder how it can possibly be that our baby girl is married and having a baby of her own.

At times like these, we taste the bitter and the sweet together. We celebrate all the wonderful blessings that time has brought to us. Yet, we feel a pang for losses, as well.

In a way, the nostalgia that we feel is heaven tugging on our heartstrings. We may not realize it, but we all long to be at home in a place where time is always our friend and never our foe. We all have, in the core of our being, a longing to be with God forever, to be in a place where we will see departed loved ones again, to live in a place where our service to God will not diminish with age, and to live in a home where there is no pain, no sorrow, and no good-byes. For the true Christian, every day is simply one day closer to our real home -- heaven.

So, if we are seeking God with all of our hearts, we shouldn't approach the brevity and frailty of life with a morbid attitude. Nor, should we dwell in guilt over lost opportunities or misused time and years. Instead, we should let the short span of our earthly existence help us sort out our priorities. When we really take hold of this concept, our hearts do grow wiser.


Monday, May 28, 2007

Best wishes to American Readers for a wonderful Memorial Day!

Did you know that this observance was originally known as Decoration Day?

Waterloo, New York is named as the official birthday of the holiday. However, most historians believe that several communities in the North and South observed decorations days -- days when they placed flowers and garlands on the graves of the Civil War dead. Certainly, many organized groups of Southern women began decorating Confederate graves before the war ended. In 1865, liberated slaves and some Union soldiers held a huge Decoration Day at the site of a former Confederate prison -- a place where many Union soldiers had died.

Women in certain towns in Vermont and Pennsylvania honored fallen Union soldiers. My guess is that this custom sprang up in Pennsylvania and the South because there were simply more Civil War graves in these states. Many soldiers were not shipped home, but were buried near where they fell. This meant that there are many graves in the states where actual Civil War battles occurred.

A northern General named John A. Logan was impressed by the way these town-wide decoration days were occurring all over the South. It made him think of how the ancient Greeks had honored their soldiers. So, he thought the North needed to expand their own honoring of the war dead.

It was partly through Logan's influence that a unified and national Decoration Day came together. The date of May 30th (now moved to the nearest Monday in May) was chosen specifically because it was not the anniversary of any particular battle. Therefore, the day was associated with neither a victory nor a defeat for either the South or the North. It was hoped that this neutral date would inspire both former Confederates and former Union members to honor their dead together, as a means of healing the rift left by the national conflict.

Ironically, however, the very Southerners who had inspired the General's idea of a national Decoration Day shunned it. They preferred to hold their own memorials in honor of the Confederacy.

Finally, after World War I, North and South became unified in honoring Decoration Day. The holiday was expanded to include Americans who died in WWI, as well as in any war. Since many casualties of the Great War came from the South, Southerners were eager to join their Northern compatriots in remembering the fallen from this world conflict. However, many Southern communities took up the national Decoration Day observance, but continued to hold separate memorial days specifically in memory of the Confederacy.

The alternative name, "Memorial Day," was first used in the 1880's, but most people called it "Decoration Day" well on into the 20th century. In 1967, a Federal law was passed that declared the official name was to be "Memorial Day".

In some places in the Southeast, all the various Confederate decorations days sort of morphed into one day in May about a week before national Memorial Day. On this special day, Southern families placed flowers on the graves of all of their departed -- whether their loved ones were ever in the military or not. I'm not sure if this custom still persists or not. But, I do know that many Southern families are very conscientious about seeing that beautiful flowers are always on their loved one's graves.

Today, many people use silk. I assume that other parts of the country must follow this custom, as well, but I'm not sure. Maybe, some of you would care to comment about the custom in your part of the world.

There are many other countries in the world that celebrate certain days to remember soldiers who died in wars.


Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Path to Identity?

A gentleman I know who lived abroad for many years remarked at the difference he saw in our culture and in many other cultures around the world. He noted that our culture assumes that sometime during a child's development, he or she will go through a "rebellious" stage. In fact, we consider this an essential part of adolescence. We believe that children must rebel in order to separate themselves from their parents' identity in order to find their own.

This man noted that there are many cultures that do not look at childhood and adolescent development in this way. In many countries, people assume that a child derives much of his identity from being a member of the family. In nations like these, people assume that a child will naturally want to honor his parents throughout his or her lifetime. In such cultures, rebellion is not viewed as a normal stage of development. Instead, it is seen as an indication that something is wrong.

Now, no culture is perfect. Among any people, there will be children who defiantly disobey their parents and reject their parents' values. The sinful nature is universal, and no one country has a claim on it.

However, I thought this observation was an interesting one.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Final question in our etiquette quiz: Why is it that young ladies were once counseled not to wear perfume or large pieces of real jewelry before the age of thirty?

This is an old rule that has persisted in some form or another even up until today. However, in our times, we do not follow it so strictly as it was followed at the height of the Victorian era.

It used to be strongly felt that a young lady's fresh and natural beauty needed very little ornamentation. It was also thought that she should not wear real perfume, but only the lightest scent, as she needed little fragrance other than to keep herself fresh and clean. Similarly, it was thought that her youthful beauty was most flattered by wearing fresh flowers in her sash or as a corsage instead of by wearing jewelry. If a young girl did wear jewelry, it was delicate in nature. Larger and more ornate pieces were left to the more mature woman.

In her book, "Trying to get to Heaven," actress Dixie Carter says that she was alarmed to find brown spots on behind her ear and on her neck. This was not too long after she turned thirty. Fearing that she had some unknown skin disease, she made an appointment with the doctor. He laughed and told her the brown spots came from some kind of interaction with her perfume and her skin. He said the spots were perfectly harmless. Since she had followed the old Southern rule and had not worn perfume before the age of thirty, she had never encountered this problem. She learned to rotate the spots where she places perfume so that these brown spots do not occur. (I have never had this type of reaction from perfume, but apparently, some people do).

I grew up in Atlanta in the nineteen-sixties and seventies. Most of my friends and I were allowed to wear eau de toilette, cologne, or even a very subtle perfume beginning in our early teens. Because retailers were appealing to the huge baby boom generation, they made several scents that were light and delicate and suitable for young women. (Anyone remember Yardley perfumes? How about Love's Baby Soft, which smelled like baby powder? Some of my friends and I even used real baby powder as a way of achieving a light, fresh scent,) There were even children's versions available that could be worn by little girls -- but these were used only for playing dress up and not on a daily basis.

I picked my signature scent -- Shalimar -- at around age 16 or 17. In truth, it is a bit heavy for a girl of that age. But, that was my choice. My father would buy it for me for Christmas, just like he bought my mother's favorite -- L'Heure Blue -- for her. So, that scent now has sentimental meaning for me. I'm glad my father buys it for me, because our budget doesn't allow for the price tag! I did not then and do not now wear Shalimar every day, though. I often wore lighter scents.

Though we were allowed to wear some form of fragrance and to use skincare products, few of us were allowed to wear facial cosmetics or to shave our legs as early as we would have liked to. Of course, we all wanted to be glamorous and grown-up, like the models we saw in fashion magazines. And, there were always a few families who pushed the envelope and let their daughters wear mature fashions and cosmetics much sooner than other girls were allowed to. The rest of us didn't know how lucky we were to be protected from growing up too quickly!

For the main, most of my parents' generation believed that young girls were not mature enough to handle looking like adults before their time. Actually, some adults were very conservative when using cosmetic enhancements themselves. My mother, who was an extraordinarily beautiful woman, wore only lipstick and a bit of blush throughout her entire life. And, her skin remained gorgeous well into her mature years. It was only when she contracted a terminal illness that she began to show her age. Similarly, my mother-in-law never wore foundation until she turned thirty-five. I look at photos of my mother and and of my mother in law when they were young and wore no makeup, and they both looked beautiful and elegant.

My father had a saying, "Why gild the lily?" He meant that a lily was beautiful enough in its bloom without trying to coat it with gold; or, in other words, a young girl's fresh face was lovely without covering it with artificial color. He was fond of saying this to me whenever he thought I was wearing too much make-up. He persisted in saying this until I married, when my husband took up the cause.

Dh often complimented me by saying, "You know, you are so pretty just as you are. You don't even need makeup." Funny how both men quit telling me that I didn't need make-up once I passed thirty-five or forty. LOL.

When I look back on it, I realize that there were certain milestones that my friends and I were gradually allowed to pass on the route to becoming adult women. Our parents believed that there was a certain birthday for each of the following:

1) The age a girl got her her first stockings (pantyhose today).
2) The age a girl wore her first pair of heels (no stilettos, of course)
3) The age a girl and her mother purchased her first training bra. (This was tied more to need than to a specific birthday.)
4) The age a girl might discreetly cover a shiny nose with a bit of powder from a compact (often around thirteen). About this time, a girl might also be allowed to use a bit of clear lip gloss.
4) The age a girl finally, finally get to use a little mascara and some blush. Eyeshadow came somewhere in there.
5) The age a girl was first allowed shave her legs.
6) The age a girl might go on a "real" date.

The years for each of these milestones varied slightly from family to family. But, in general, our parents supported each other in the belief that young girls should dress appropriately for their age. Parenting is never easy, and we baby-boomers were by no means a picnic to raise. But, at least my parents generation presented somewhat of a united front. I know mothers of young girls now who either get little support or even opposition from their friends when attempting to help their daughters dress age-appropriately.

As much as my generation chafed at having to wait for certain things, there was an air of sweetness to these rites of passage. We learned that none of these things were to be hurried. Each one was a step along the way. When each one arrived, it was to be celebrated. Attaining these milestones one by one gave a girl the sense that it was a very special thing to grow up to be a woman.

Also, there was a distinct difference between the dress of a little girl and the dress of a mature woman. Dress for the preteen or teen girl was somewhere in between -- not little-girly, but still with a youthfulness appropriate to our years.

Of course, we were the generation that popularized jeans and broke down school dress codes. I lived in a conservative area, and our school was probably one of the last to cave in. But, eventually, we pushed until we were allowed to wear pants and jeans to school.

This massive shift in clothing styles that took place during my teens further divided adult clothing from teen clothing, though perhaps not beneficially so. We went from being a very neat lot to being a very scruffy lot. Some middle-aged adults tried to wear the styles of the young, but these experiments seldom came off very well.

Even then, however, you seldom saw girls below the age of twelve dressed as little miniature adults, as you do today. Much of our society seems bent on pushing seven year olds into the same type of outfits that Paris Hilton and Brittney Spears wear.

Today, when I look at little girls, who are decked to the hilt in "adult" fashion, I feel a bit wistful for them. Actually, many an adult woman would blush to wear styles that are now sold to little girls. But, I do wonder if some of these girls are going to look back one day and feel that they missed a part of childhood.

Preteens probably have the hardest sailing in this area. Going through puberty is fun, but also challenging. Why make it harder for young girls by allowing them to dress in such a way that calls attention to their developing bodies?

Of course, the young are always impatient to grow up. My friends and I certainly were! And, thus, it has probably always been. In the days when a girl had to be sixteen to put her hair up, girls in braids begged to be able to wear their hair like a "grown-up".

Yet, until our formative years have passed, we can't fully appreciate how sweet our youth is. Therefore, its up to adults -- who should understand this concept -- to help a children slow things down and to enjoy the process of growing up.

Some of us would find the no perfume/no jewelry until thirty rule a bit extreme today. Some of us might have convictions that women of any age should not wear jewelry or makeup. Many of us fall somewhere in between.

Maybe, we can all give some thought to the principle behind the rule. Perhaps, we should think of ways to help our girls and our boys to dress and act in ways appropriate for their age. How we each decide to put this principle into practice may vary. But, we probably all agree that it's a wise idea.

After all, a young girl's face and form is lovely simply by virtue of innocence and of youth. Perhaps, my father has a good point. Why gild the lily?

Etiquette Quiz, The Salute -- PS
Buffy left an interesting comment on the post about the origin of the salute. I hope she doesn't mind if I repeat it for all of us to enjoy.

"In the British navy they salute the same way as the American armed forces. This is supposed to be because the crews' hands would be dirty and it was considered disrespectful to the officer to reveal them in a salute."

Well, that makes sense. So, now, I wonder why all branches of the Amerian armed forces salute in this way. Perhaps, we modeled our salute after the British navy, as we certainly had a lot of contact with British ships in our Colonial days, as well as in the first several decades of our existance as a nation. Or, maybe we just wanted to do something a little different than Mother England. I hope it wasn't that our soldiers all had dirty hands!

Does anyone know?


Sunday, May 20, 2007

Etiquette Quiz: From when comes the Salute!

When I put this question in last Wednesday's quiz, I thought I knew the definitive answer. I had always heard that in medieval days, it was sometimes difficult for a traveling knight in armor to tell if another knight in armor was a threat or if he was merely a passer-by.

Therefore, if one knight met another upon the road and he wished to demonstrate peaceful intentions, he would raise the visor of his helmet to show his eyes. By using his right arm for this motion, he was also simultaneously taking his hand away from his weapon. Since this made it harder for him to draw his sword quickly, he was expressing a certain amount of trust and vulnerability.

Even today, we read a lot of information about a person from the look in their eyes. Have you ever felt uncomfortable when a stranger did not take off dark sunglasses when talking to you? Or, have you ever had a miscommunication via email or the phone which you were able to solve more quickly in person? There's something about being able to see someone eye to eye that helps us trust each other more deeply. A face to face conversation helps us connect in ways that no other form of communication can.

In most cases, our ability to see another's eyes is not a matter of life and death in today's world. But, for a medieval knight who was traveling through strange country, it was vital that he be able to size up the intentions of another knight. A knight who refused to raise his visor was probably hiding something. A knight who was willing to raise his visor was more likely to pass by peacefully, and he likely displayed an open and friendly countenance.

But, even if a knight who was spoiling for a fight raised his visor, his eyes were an important clue to his state of mind. He signaled through his eyes, "Be on your guard." He at least paid enough respect to his opponent to let his face be seen.

If a knight was in the presence of a superior, such as a powerful nobleman or even a king, he might be expected to raise his visor and show his eyes. Or, he might even be required to remove his helmet completely.

Thus, the raising of a knight's visor came to be associated with trust, loyalty, and respect. At some point, knights and soldiers stopped wearing the type of armor we associate with the middle ages. Even so, the movement of the hand to the face has continued on into our day as the salute.

In the military and in some police and fire departments, extending and placing the hand just above eye level conveys loyalty, respect, and in some cases, a tribute to heroism. American soldiers salute with the hand perpendicular to the head; British soldiers characteristically salute with the hand held parallel to the head. You can see that either hand motion is similar to the motion it would have taken to raise a visor.

This visor theory makes total sense to me. However, in doing some research, I have found that there are a couple of other theories around.

One theory also ties into the days of knights in armor. During that same period, free men in Europe were allowed to carry arms. Unlike serfs, they were also allowed to look directly at an overlord without averting their eyes. So, if a freeman met another freeman or even a nobleman, he lifted his arm as a sign of friendliness. Again, his action showed that he did not intend to use his hand to draw a weapon. He also gazed directly at the other freeman or even the nobleman, rather than ducking and cringing. Thus, the freeman was showing respect for another -- even for someone superior to him in status -- without denying his own honor as a freeman.

According to this theory, this is true of the salute today. As with the knights and freemen of old, the saluting soldier stands erect, with his gaze directly upon his superior. He does not cringe or duck his head. Thus, he conveys respect for, loyalty to, and submission to a higher authority without becoming servile or debased.

On a different twist, others say that all soldiers in what is now the UK were required to remove their entire headgear in the presence of a superior officer. It is alleged that starting with the famous Coldstream Guards in the 1700's, all military force in what is now the UK eventually switched over to a salute. This was considered to be far easier than taking off a helmet or a hat.

Still others say that the salute goes back even further than the middle ages, to very ancient times. If that is true and I believe that it might well be, the gesture is still rooted in the same idea: One man raised his arm to another to demonstrate either 1) he was not armed and, thus, was not a threat or 2) he was armed, but he did not intend to attack.

So, how does all of this tie in with etiquette? If you are in the armed forces or are married to someone who is, you probably know that there is a distinct military protocol surrounding the salute.

For the rest of us, this is an example of how a custom can evolve over time. Like many etiquette rules, the salute has origins that were rooted in history but live on in symbolic form today. Even though the gesture is now symbolic, we all still appreciate the sense of honor, loyalty and respect conveyed by the salute.


Saturday, May 19, 2007

Etiquette Quiz -- Fun with Soup!

When you are eating soup, you should always spoon the liquid away from you rather than towards you. In other words, you should start with your spoon towards the front of the bowl and move it towards the back and then upwards to your mouth. This should be done in one smooth motion. Lead with the far side of the spoon when you place it into the liquid and sip from the near side of the spoon when it reaches your mouth.

Why should you spoon away from you? While no one took a guess on this rule, it's really common sense. If you spoon away from you, you will be less likely to drip any soup on you or on the tablecloth. If any liquid does drop, it will drop into the bowl instead of on you. It is also a more graceful movement.

So, how does this fit into our definition of etiquette: thoughtfulness towards others? If any of us in the blog-o-sphere ever find ourselves eating soup with you, we do not care to view splotches of tomato soup all over your pretty blouse. Likewise, we don't want to see French onion soup plopping onto beautiful tablecloths. In fact, such sights might put us off our appetite a bit. This is doubly so if we are in some way responsible for a) cleaning the blouse b) cleaning the tablecloth or c) having borrowed great-grandma's irreplacable hand-tatted lace table covering just for this occasion.

As you spoon the soup backwards, remember to skim the spoon lightly across the the top. In most cases, you don't need to bring the utensil very far down into the liquid to get a full spoonful. If the soup contains elements that do settle to the bottom, such as pieces of heavier vegetables or meat in a vegetable stew, you can bring the spoon down to collect them.

In a family or casual setting, here's how to politely obtain those last few delicious spoonfuls at the bottom of a soup bowl: Tip the bowl slightly away from you and continue to use the spoon-away-from-you method. You might even get away with this at a dressier dinner party, though I wouldn't insist on it. When in doubt, notice what your hostess does.

Of course, as my favorite children's etiquette book is named, "Soup should be seen and not heard." NEVER slurp your soup or make any noise when consuming it.

Now, if you really want to delve into soup etiquette, here is a quote from the gently humorous, yet always correct Miss Manners. Let the record show, however, that the Merry Rose will be content if you observe only two "soup" rules: 1) don't slurp and 2) do spoon away from you. The Merry Rose warns you that with regard to any other practice related to soup, you are on your own! So, she will let Miss Manners take it from this point forward:

"Dear Miss Manners: When eating soup from a bowl on a plate, where is the proper place to set the spoon between spoonfuls and again when finished. Is it the bowl or the plate?

"Gentle Reader: Miss Manners is going to drive you crazy on this one. You want a simple answer so you can eat your soup in peace and propriety, and she is about to douse you with technical terms.

"Soup may be served in bowls or cups with small plates under them, in which case the spoon is always parked on the underlying plate, whether you are finished or just resting up for the next spoonful. That would be a simple answer if this were all there were to it, but there is more.

"At more or less formal dinners, soup is served in a so-called soup plate, which doesn't look like a plate because it is a rimmed wide, shallow bowl, but it is called a plate anyway. It goes on top of the service plate, and both are removed together when replaced with the plate for the fish or meat course.

"When a soup plate is used, the spoon is parked in it, not in the flat plate below the soup plate. This is a shock to people who only learned soup-bowl etiquette, and will think you don't know any better, but it is the correct method.

"You can achieve an even greater shock with two-handled soup cups, where it is not strictly necessary to use a spoon at all, but permissible to drink from the lifted cup. However, Miss Manners does not consider herself responsible for the consequences of Fun With Soup."

So, Miss Manners has spoken. Now, some people get into all sorts of other rules about what spoons to use with what type of soup, what type of crackers may properly be crumbled into soup, what soups may be served for lunch and which for dinner, what soup serving dishes may be used at lunch and which for dinner, etc.

However, expending this much thought on the proper consumption of soup gives the Merry Rose a slight headache. She suggests that we skip all of that in favor of going to her favorite "meat and three" for a cup of good old vegetable soup. She promises that she will not frown if you crumble your cornbread on top, if you will not frown at her for doing the same. And, while we're daintily spooning our soup away from us, we'll order a side of turnip greens and shake on a few drops pepper vinegar. Of course, we'll follow this up with some blackberry cobbler a la mode.

Anyone with me?

Who says that etiquette can't be fun!

elizabeth aka the merry rose.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Etiquette Quiz Answers -- Congrats to JanH

JanH gave her thoughts on why a lady should not accept expensive gifts from a man to whom she is not married -- not even during an engagement. (Of course, this rule would not apply to a father or brother; we're talking outside of the family here.) It is acceptable, of course, to receive an engagement ring from one's fiance and also to exchange engagement gifts right before the marriage date.

Jan's thought was that if, for some reason, a couple does not get married after all, that might create awkward situations with regards to gifts that were given while dating or courting. I'm not sure if that reasoning was part of the original rule. Whether it was or wasn't, it should have been! Good point, Jan!

When I was in college, a girl in my dorm accepted a ring from a boy she thought would soon ask her to marry him. If I recall correctly, the ring had been passed down from a relative and had great sentimental value to his family. The couple had mentioned marriage, but they broke up before a real engagement occurred. Then, the young man wished to receive the ring back so that he could keep it in his family. The girl refused, saying that he had given it to her freely as a gift and it was hers to keep. Since the family wanted it back so badly, she assumed it must have great monetary value, and she rushed it to the jewelers' for an appraisal. I never heard how things worked out, but, needless to say, this whole thing was unpleasant for all.

That's not the only time I've heard of something like this happening. So, a young man (or a young woman) would do well to be cautious about giving a present if the giver or the giver's family would be hurt in any way by the permanent loss of it. Once someting has been presented as a gift, it is awkward and difficult to ask for it back.

Now, here's what I heard about this rule about gifts from a man to a single woman when I was growing up: For a woman to receive an expensive gift from a man to whom she is not yet married forms a premature and inappropriate attachment between the two.

There are several dangers in this: 1) It's possible that a young man may hope for or even expect inappropriate physical intimacy in return for expensive or frequent gifts. Or, he may presume too much of a claim upon a girl's time and upon her heart -- a claim that would be mutually appropriate in marriage. Thus, his gift would demonstrate disrespect for her as a single woman, who is free to choose where and when she commits her time. 2) A man may be sincere in giving an expensive gift. However, the young lady may read more meaning into the present than the young man intends to convey by it. She may take it as a sign of his love for her, and she may fix her hopes on marrying him. He, on the other hand, may simply be trying to impress her or to impress his buddies by the price of the gift. Perhaps, he may genuinely like her and want to give her joy by a gift, but he may not be ready to think in terms of a serious relationship. So, while he dreams of joining the navy and sailing all over the world before settling down, she's picking out the color of her bridesmaid's dresses. A young man simply may not attach as much emotional meaning to an expensive gift as the girl who receives it does. In this case, the girl may wind up with a broken heart. 3) Conversely, a young woman may be more thrilled with the gift than the giver. She may try to wheedle presents out of a young man, and, yet, have no real love for him. If she can get him to sacrifice his own financial well-being in order to buy her anything she wants, she may actually lose respect for him. In this case, the young man winds up with a broken heart and with a wrecked budget, to boot. 4) The act of receiving an expensive gift from a man can bring a woman's reputation into question. This was a greater danger in the past, when this rule of gift-giving was kept more strictly than today. But, even today, though our social rules are not so exact, the reputations of both the man and the woman are something to consider when giving and receiving gifts. While others shouldn't pry, it's not wise to needlessly invite quesitons about the nature of a man and woman's relationship. 5) Even if the man and woman have sincere regard for each other, exchanging expensive gifts can cause problems. For one thing, too frequent or too extravagant gift-giving can cause a couple to feel a deep emotional attachment before their relationship is ready for it. The couple may focus in on each other so much that they neglect healthy relationships with others. If, for some reason, the relationship doesn't lead to marriage, they will endure more suffering than if they had let their affections grow for each other at a slower, more natural pace. Even if they are committed to physical purity, premature emotional intimacy can weaken their resolve.

There are two literary examples that illustrate these principles for me. One is Sense and Sensiblity. If you've ever read the book or seen the movie, you know that Marianne read more into Willoughby's attentions to her than was warranted. Her mother made the same mistake, and she failed to protect her daughter's heart. For her part, Marianne gave her heart too passionately too soon. For his part, Willoughby promised more by his actions than he was willing to deliver. Of course, Marianne was devastated when Willoughby coolly dropped her in order to marry someone with more wealth. In this fictional narrative, Willoughby didn't give her expensive gifts, per se. Still, he gave her many little carefully selected tokens of affection and spent a great deal of time with her. According to the mores of his day, he behaved in a way that was appropriate only if he was seriously intending to court Marianne. That is the same principle behind the rule of giving gifts -- give only gifts that are appropriate for the stage of your relationship.

Elinor's sister, too, suffered from unrequited love for a time. But, since she exercised prudence in her conduct around her beau, her mind could be at ease. Even though her heart hurt, her conscience was clear. Her loss stung deeply, but it did not devastate her as as Marianne's loss devastaed her. Eleanor continued to be a thougthful daughter, sister, and friend, while Marianne's whole world crashed.

Secondly, in Gone with the Wind, there is a scene in which Scarlett ponders whether to take a certain present from Rhett Butler. She remembers that her mother taught her a girl should not accept expensive gifts from a man. Her mother suggested that a girl might receive a book of poetry or a bottle of Florida water, but nothing of more significance. At the time that Scarlett reflects upon her mother's wise advice, her mother had passed away and Scarlett had already embarked on a course that carried her further and further away from her mother's teachings. Scarlett let her desire for pretty things outweigh her mother's admonition to be careful about the type of gifts she accepts. Scarlett was only too happy for Rhett to shower her with costly presents. We all know that story didn't end well.

As the song says: "You can't hurry love. It just has to wait." There is a time and a place for everything. A little wisdom in gift giving between a man and a woman can be healthy for both. And, some parental guidance in this area can help both sons and daughters make good choices.

So, how do we know which gifts are appropriate for a man to give a single woman? In the old days, gifts of clothing or jewelry of any kind were off-limits, whether they were expensive or not. Nowadays, a young man might give a young lady a winter scarf or some inexpensive gloves for Christmas or an inexpensive pair of dainty earrings for her birthday without raising too many eyebrows. But, on the whole, it's still wise for a young man to stay away from giving clothing as gifts, as it implies an intimate knowledge of a girl's size and shape. It's also good for him to think carefully before giving a gift of jewelry, and certainly, he should never give expensive jewelry. Also, a young man should not give any present that strains his budget, no matter how small that budget may be.

Of course, one old stand-by is flowers. If a man is at a loss for other ideas, a mother or a sister can usually help him find a little gift that is creative, sweet, appropriate, and won't completely empty his wallet. I know my daughter has helped my son with gift-giving, even when it comes to the family.

For her part, a woman should express appreciation for any gift, no matter how small or inexpensive. If a man wins a stuffed animal for her at an amusement park or if he brings her a bouquet of daisies, things like these can be very special to a young woman's heart. It's the worth of the man and not the worth of the gift that is most important. This isn't to say that a young lady should be happy if a man appears to take her for granted. If he does give her a token gift, she can expect him to put some thought and some effort into it. But, she has to balance this by not burdening him with unrealistic expectations.

This rule about gifts between a man and a lady is an old one. I'm not sure how far back into history it reaches.

Yet, even as late as the 1970's, when I was a teen, many parents -- including mine -- still taught this principle to their children. Today, people are much more lax about this rule, but I'm not so sure that's wise. To my way of thinking, keeping in mind appropriate guidelines for gift giving is still a sound and prudent principle, and it's one that I still champion to this day. Of course, as with all rules of etiquette, it is up to each person to decide what they think.

Parents and other adults could provide needed guidance here. As a young girl, I did accept this rule, but I didn't fully understand all the "why's and wherefore's". If left to my own devices, I was more apt to be guided by romantic whims than by wisdom. I would have been Marianne and not Elinor! Now that I'm older, I finally get it!


Thursday, May 17, 2007

Manners -- the Quiz -- Answer to Question I: A woman and her name

Manners are the happy way of doing things.

Congratulations to Courtney, who answered correctly that an old etiquette rule was that a woman's name should appear in the paper only three times in her life: when she was born, when she married, and when she died.

Of course, as Courtney pointed out, a woman's birth could hardly be mentioned without also mentioning the name of her mother. Therefore, in reality, a woman's name appeared in print at least a fourth time in her life: when she gave birth.

Though this rule has often been repeated, I suspect that it might have first been said in a tongue-in-cheek way. Some people say that this saying started with the Victorians. But, others claim that First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was the first one to put the unspoken principle that a lady avoids undue publicity into these exact words, "A lady's name must appear in the paper only when she is born, when she marries, and when she dies." If this is so, I have an idea that Mrs. Roosevelt was simply making a witty observation about the attitudes of her upper class family and friends. She, herself, was outspoken when it came to her political views and was often quoted and mentioned in the press.

No matter how the saying started, it was based upon a real principle of manners. It used to be considered that a true lady would be confident and fulfilled in her life. Thus, she would not feel the need to push herself forward to gain public affirmation. She would not live her life in a way that was calculated to attract publicity. She would not seek media praise for her good deeds. Nor, would she ever want her good name to be tainted by any hint of scandal, particularly a scandal that would be repeated in the news.

In actuality, women's names have long been mentioned in the media on a variety of happy occasions. We've all read about women who graduate from high school or college, who are among this year's debutantes, who raise money to help disaster victims, who are named as teacher of the year, who win ribbons at the state fair, who share recipes in the food section, or who attain to some worthy career achievement, etc. We also read about women who are responsible for advances in science, medicine, and other fields.

When I was a little girl, many newspapers in small towns even mentioned whenever a family had a relative visiting from out of town! Since my relatives came from tiny Southern towns, I enjoyed the special feeling of being welcomed in the newspaper whenever I was "in town". The local editors had so little news to print that they had room to graciously mention the arrival of one, ordinary little girl.

In fact, 27 years ago, my about-to-be-fiance accompanied my parents me to church in one tiny town where my mother's family had settled for generations. I think everyone for miles around guessed that there would be an engagement announced soon. An elderly relative of my mothers, an gentlemanly old cousin whom I loved dearly, took my now dear hubby aside and grilled him to make sure he was a worthy suitor. And, "sure enough", it was mentioned in the paper that my parents and I had attended church along with a guest. We got a chuckle out of that one.

There used to be some regrettable snobbishness connected to the idea that a true lady would not want her name mentioned in the news. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, more and more families achieved wealth through business. These "new" families, as they were called, sought to gain entrance into the upper circles of society. Sometimes, they would let it be known to the press whenever they hosted or attended fashionable charitable or social events in an effort to call attention to their rising status. But, women from "old-line" familes looked down their noses at women who used the media as a means of climbing up the social ladder. Eleanor Roosevelt, for example, had relatives who came from "old families".

There was another consideration, as well. Just as now, the lives of actresses and other celebrities were often described in the press. Sometimes, the celebrities were cited for good things. But, then, just as now, some celebrities got into trouble and stories about them could be lurid. Some people found these details to be glamorous; others felt that such gossip about celebrities was unwholesome.

Also, just as now, there have been periods in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when some young men and women had too much time and money on their hands and too little guidance. These young men and women often were proud of being noticed in the papers for their party lifestyle. They vied with each other to spend the most on clothes, to be seen at the most fashionable places, and to attract the notice of the press. It's understandable that many families did not want their children to adopt this lifestyle.

Sadly, at the moment, many of today's young heiresses and actresses are being hailed in the media for excessive drinking, excessive partying, and impure behavior. But, it's not just heiresses and actresses who draw media attention; a whole young generation is being characterized in the media as living a hedonistic lifestyle. How many stories have we seen about young men and women who have been involved in tragedies because of poor parental guidance and indulgence in excess? And, today, young people don't even need the media to publicize their antics; they can make noteriety for themselves through venues like My Space.

Unfortunately, the lurid stories about youth gone wild attract far more attention than the ones about the many, many young people who are doing worthy things with their lives.

Some of the men and women who are now delighted to find themselves in the media for dubious reasons will not be so happy about this later on in life. Happily, many will grow up, change their attitudes and their lives , get married, and have children. Of course, their past lives can be forgiven and forgotten. Only, some painful consequences may remain because their former actions will be a matter of public record, for all -- including their children and grandchildren -- to see.

So, this brings us to the good and protective aspect of this principle. Young men and women would do well to live in a way that if they ever do find their names broadcast on TV or in the papers, it will be for positive reasons and not for sad ones. As adults, we should consider this as well.

"If a reporter wanted to write a story about me, what would he or she say?" is a good question to ask.

Now, we do have to remember the verse, "Woe to you when all men speak well of you." (Luke 6:26) Paul also reminded us that all who will live a godly life will be persecuted. Sometimes, a man or a woman who humbly, but boldly takes a stand for Christ will be villified in the press. But, if we suffer reproach, it's far better to suffer it for the sake of Christ than because we've lived in a way that brings shame upon us.

Perhaps, you may think, "I'm not famous or talented, and I haven't done anything big. I don't think a reporter would find much to write about me."

But, if you are living a life of wholesome and positive influence, even within a very small circle, now that's news worth hearing about!

So, despite the old rule, let your name appear in the media as many times as you wish. After all, if you're blogging, you're actually creating your own press! Only, do your best to live in such a way that only happy and productive things are associated with your name!


Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Fun Quiz: The Principles of Etiquette...

What is etiquette? It is a code of manners based on the principle of kindness and consideration for others. In fact, good manners flow from the desire to put others at ease, to seek their highest welfare, and to be thoughtful of their needs. If a woman cultivates a kind and thoughtful heart, she will come out all right in her conduct and her speech. This is true, even if she has never been educated in grammar or etiquette. She may make some mistakes when it comes to the rules, but her heart will be true to the basic principle of etiquette.

On the other hand, the woman who knows every little nuance of every little rule of etiquette, but who lacks consideration for others, will invariably make others around her feel uncomfortable. This is true even if she uses perfect grammar and follows every rule of manners. Her performance may be flawless, but people will sense a lack of kindness towards them in her heart.

Of course, it's not always a matter of either/or. It's great when we combine the heart of kindness with a basic knowledge of etiquette rules.

Most rules of etiquette have their beginnings in common sense principles. But, as manners typically become traditions that are passed down through the generations, the principles sometimes get lost along the way. When that happens, one of three things occurs: 1) A woman blindly follows the rule, but she secretly has no idea why. 2) A woman wrongly concludes that manners are silly, and she rebels against any rule of etiquette that she doesn't understand. 3) Society changes the rules of etiquette to fit changing situations. (For example, most people today don't care about the Victorian language of flowers, but we are mindful of etiquette for email, Internet, and Instant Messaging. New rules are emerging to help us be kind and considerate when using these relatively new technologies.

If you understand the principles behind rules of etiquette, you will be able to practice them better. You will understand how the rule fits into the principle of being considerate of others, and it will make more sense to you. If you do choose to break a rule that you believe no longer expresses thoughtfulness in our modern world, at least you will know what you are doing and why. Your choice will be well thought out and not exercised on a whim.

So, here's a fun quiz. Following are a few long-held rules of etiquette. Do you know the principle behind each rule? Guess and leave your comments so we can all guess along together. I'll post the answers soon.

On to the rules quiz. Guess the principles behind the following:

1) A lady's name may appear in the media only on three occasions during her life. While we don't have to be legalistic about this rule nowadays, it's good to know the principle behind the rule. What is this principle? You get extra bonus points for knowing what are the three occasions referred to in the rule.

2) Always spoon soup away from, rather than towards you. What is the principle behind this rule?

3) Young ladies should not accept expensive gifts before marriage, and this includes the engagement period. (An exception might be an engagement gift right before the marriage takes place.) What is the principle behind this rule? Even if we don't adhere as strictly to this rule in the past, how might the princple behind the rule protect young people?

4) Young ladies should wear no added scent and only the most delicate jewelry, if they wear any jewelry at all, until the age of thirty. If they do wear makeup, it should be lightly applied and ultra-natural looking. OK, let's admit up front that we've all broken this one. I had my signature scent settled before I even got out of my teens. But, what is the principle behind this rule? How might we apply that principle even if we do not adhere to the fixed rule?

5) The armed forces in many countries use salutes. Where did the salute come from? Why was it a point of etiquette in the beginning? What consideraton did it show for others?

Emma (http://charmingthebirdsfromthetrees.blogspot.com) tagged me for this meme:

How it works:
1. Grab the book closest to you
2. Open it to page 161
3. Find the fifth full sentence
4. Post the text of the sentence to your blog
5. Don't search around for the coolest book you have, use the one that is really next to you.
6. Tag five people to do this meme.

"We would prefer to see complete mansuscripts, and we will return manuscipts if they are acompanied by an envelope with sufficient postage."

Do I win the award for the weirdest sentence? The book that is currently closest to me on my desk is none other than my Writer's Market 2007. Since this indispensible book uses lots of short phrases to describe what editors and book publishers want from prospective authors, I was hard-pressed to find five complete sentences. And, I had no shot at all at finding a sentence that sounds cool or profound or literary or spiritual. But, there you have it: If you have a yen to be published by DollarSmart Books, send them a complete manusscript for their consideration.

So, I tag:

Sarah http://a-bend-in-the-road.blogspot.com
Belle-Ah http://southerness.blogspot.com
Jenny http://backwoodswife.blogspot.com
Gaylynn http://mrsgaylynn.wordpress.com
Elizabeth Q http://www.athomewithelizabeth.blogspot.com

Monday, May 14, 2007

More Q&A about the finishing school for ladies

Dear ladies,

Thank you all so much for your enthusiastic response to Emma's and my little idea. I will be answering each and every one of your comments individually. But, in the meantime, I wanted to cover a few questions that have come up:

1) Will there be a separate link/blogger page where all of the articles can be accessed.

Yes, that is the plan. However, you will also be able to read the posts at each teacher's week when it is her week to teach.

2) What if I don't have a blog? How will I stay in the loop?

If you can log onto the Internet, you can read the posts. Emma and I will post the schedule and the links to each teacher's blogs on our blogs. You can use that link to keep up with the schedule. If you wish to comment on a subject, you can usually do so anonymously, no matter what host service the blogger uses. So, chime in the discussion if you want to, and don't worry about it if you don't have a blog. Also, we hope to gather everything onto a special page just for this "finishing school" as well.

3) I already have so much to do and some days I feel like I can't get it all done. If I participate, will I be expected to meet some "idealistic" human-made standard of "ladyhood"?

Absolutely not! This is meant to be fun! It is also designed to be informative, helpful, and entertaining. We'll all be learning together. Hopefully, we will all grow as women through this project. Those of us who are participating are doing so because we have an interest in at least some of the topics mentioned. Some were not given the opportunity to study these things in school and wish that these things had been included in our basic education.

Going through the finishing school will be sort of like joining a club of women who enjoy doing the same things you do -- sort of as if you decided you wanted to take a class in photography or cake making or join a garden club. The classes are designed to that you can glean from them what you desire and apply them as you see fit. Take away from this what is helpful to you, and don't worry about the rest!!

4) When will we start?

Towards the end of June. If you miss classes due to summer travel, you can always catch up on the Finishing School Blog page. If we have enough demand, we will either repeat the classes in the fall or do something else along these same lines.


Thursday, May 10, 2007

Q and A for our "Finishing School for Ladies"...

1) What if I fall behind in the schedule or what if I'm out of town a week or two?

This is a fun project. No one will be grading you and no one will be checking up on you to make sure that you finish all the "assignments". Of course, if you have a blog, we'd love it if you'd do at least one post per week the subject that we're all studying that week. Perhaps, you might have something to share about the topic at hand, or, maybe, you'd like to describe what you're learning from reading the posts. Maybe, you'd even like to post photos of a completed project. Sharing will be part of the fun! But, do not worry if you don't have a blog or if, for some reason, you don't feel posts about the Finishing School will fit on your blog. If you simply prefer to read the posts n the "teacher's" blogs, that's fine.

At least for a time, we will archive all of the posts on a special blogger page just for the "Finishing School for Ladies". You will have the information to use for your own reference. You can also use this as a way to catch up if you have to miss a week or two.

Having said that, I will add that the more we all put into this, the more fun it will be for all of us. We do ask that you consider a goal of reading five posts a week for six to eight weeks before you begin the project. The more of us who stick with it, the more we can all encourage each other.

2) I'm already an experienced wife and mother. Will that matter?

Not at all. We will include something fun and instructive for everyone -- from pre-teens to great-grandmothers. I, myself, have been married for nearly 27 years. But, I am still looking forward to learning new things and to polishing old skills.

3) What costs will be involved?

There may be a few projects which would require you to use supplies that you have on hand or to buy some new ones. When we draw up a list of supplies, we will try to keep budget considerations in mind. If you like, you can skip a project, or you can print out the instructions to do at a later time.

We also may list suggested resources for anyone who would like to study a topic in more depth. Perhaps, you will be able to find many of these in your local library.


Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The Ladies Finishing School, Online

Surprise! Check out a project that Emma and I are dreaming up
....This could otherwise be entitled, What Have Emma and I Gotten ourselves into?

In April, Emma who authors the blog, Charming the Birds from the Trees, posted that she had seen a British TV show called Ladettes to Ladies. In the series, several young women were given the opportunity to attend an old fashioned finishing school, one in which they learned many skills that would help them in life. I also mentioned that The Athenaeum in Columbia, TN offers a summer program for young women that recreates an 1861 girl's finishing school. I've listed the links in case you'd like to check them out. http://charmingthebirdsfromthetrees.blogspot.com/2007/04/ladette-to-lady.html

Many of us who read Emma's blog commented that we would love to learn the skills that were/are taught in a finishing school. Even those of us who received wonderful academic educations thought it would be fun to brush up on the skills that help a lady create a life of loveliness for herself and her loved ones.

Voila! An idea was born. Why not create an online finishing school? Emma and I kicked around some ideas and came up with the following:

If we have enough women who would like to participate, we would like to create a six to eight week finishing school course online. Emma and I have in mind a few women we know who have expertise in certain subjects We would ask each one to devote one week of their blog to that subject. I will serve as a sort of online principal or head mistress. That's just a fancy way of saying that I will be the blogger who coordinates it all.

For example, we might choose someone who would blog about how to live elegantly on a frugal budget. The blogger would post five daily lessons about that topic and may also suggest an exercise or two to for all of us try. During that week, we would all read the posts on "the expert's" blog and leave comments about how we are applying that skill in our week. If any of us would like to add further to the conversation of the week, we could post about that subject on our blogs, as well.

We would select about four or five teachers and six to eight different subjects. In that way, by the end of the period, we will all have been introduced to eight different subjects. Of course, we cannot cover in one week what might be a year's worth of study in a real finishing school. So, any of us who want to can continue to study these subjects on our own.

So, you ask, what is a finishing school, anyway? According to Wikipedia, a finishing school is a type of school for women that emphasizes cultural studies and prepares students especially for social activities. The name reflects that it follows ordinary school and is intended to complete the educational experience. To that, definition, I would would add that most finishing schools teach domestic arts, household management (some even hotel management) and languages. Old-timey finishing schools also used to teach needlework and other crafts.

Schools like these were very popular in the late 1700's through the mid-1900's. Many famous women's colleges, such as Smith, started out as finishing type schools and switched to a more academic/professional focus as our society has changed. Even though finishing schools per se have lost popularity, a few still exist. The ones that are still around are often both expensive and exclusive. They prepare women for roles as members of the upper realms of society. Princess Diana, for example, attended a Swiss finishing school at one point.

Most of us in the blog-o-sphere will never be called upon to enter the most rarefied ranks of society, nor would we want to. And, few of us can afford to attend the finest finishing schools. Besides, many of us are well past the age of attending a real life finishing school.

But, wouldn't it be fun to spend six or eight weeks learning at least a little of what a woman might learn in a finishing school? After all, we can benefit from brushing up on ladylike arts. Wouldn't it be delightful to chat about such topics as personal presentation, hospitality, manners, culture, conversation, cooking special meals and desserts, etc?

We can all have fun with our online finishing school! We can create it to be whatever meets our needs.

The graduate of a finishing school has been educated to be, among other things, a lady. There are many definitions for the word lady. For our purposes, we will choose the ones that have to do with character.

Among the characteristics that Dictionary.com lists for the word lady are a woman who is polite, refined, and well-spoken, a woman regarded as proper and virtuous, ladylike, feminine, mistress of a household, and a woman of good manners. Lest we think fear that a little refinement will make us stuffy, we should remember that a true lady is one who thinks about the welfare of others. She also creates a lovely life for herself, for her loved ones, and for others around her. A true lady is enjoyable to be around.

Notice that "lady" is not a synonym for "Christian woman". A woman may have refined manners and be well-spoken, and yet fail to have a genuine heart for God. On the other hand, a woman can have some rough edges to her, and, yet, she may be devoted to Christ and to the things that Christ cares about. God doesn't judge us according to Emily Post's or Martha Stewart's rules of living.

However, we can all benefit from reminders about how to present ourselves well, how to provide hospitality, etc. We won't be discussing religion directly. But, we can use the skills we talk about in God's service.

Here's an example of what First Lady Sarah Childress Polk and her sister learned at a finishing school:

"To further their education, the Childress’s sent both girls to the best girls school in the south: the Moravian Female Academy in Salem, North Carolina in 1817. Here they studied English, grammar, geography, needlework, history, music, drawing and the Bible."

Sarah used her education to become one of the most gracious and effective First Ladies in our country's history. She was a great help to her husband, President James K. Polk, throughout his legal and political career. Even after she was widowed, she continued to be admired. During the Civil War, generals from both sides visited her and paid her honor. Read her story at this link: http://www.firstladies.org/biographies/firstladies.aspx?biography=12

If you're interested in participating in our little "Finishing School", either to learn new skills or as a refresher, please leave a comment on my blog or on Emma's blog. Emma will be posting her ideas for our little school soon. Also, we would appreciate any suggestions you have about which subjects you would like us to include. Some ideas are:

How to live elegantly on a budget
Embroidery or some other type of lovely handwork project
Sewing an apron or a nightgown
Etiquette, modern and traditional: including cell phone and email etiquette
Teaching children about manners
French culture and elementary French language
How to prepare a simple and relatively inexpensive French meal
Interior Decorating
Flower Arranging, Centerpieces for tables,
The art of Gift Giving, How to make birthdays and other occasions special
The Lady's appointment book/calendar/household management book
Art Appreciation
Music Appreciation
Personal presentation: poise, grooming, posture, skincare, etc.
What to wear on what occasion
How to be an interesting conversationalist; how to help guests enjoy talking to each other, etc.
How to set a table for a casual lunch, a casual dinner, a more formal dinner, a tea, a buffet supper, etc.
How to choose clothing and how to maintain clothing and shoes; the lady's closet, the lady's boudoir
Encouraging our husbands in their work, being a life mate
Keeping up with current events
Selecting a signature flower and perfume; the "language" of flowers, etc.

You can get some other ideas by reading this link: http://www.ivpworld.com/en/default.asp.

We want to include subjects that are fun and subjects that are practical. So, let us know what you think!


P.S. Emma's husband created the lovely button for us! We will use it as our theme.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Strong Silent Type...

In movies, particularly those that have a western or a romantic theme, the hero is often the strong, silent type. This is the man who is highly principled, but who doesn't talk about his convictions. Neither, does he talk about his deep feelings. He quietly holds to what is right without much regard to whether others approve of him or not. He may be peace-loving and, perhaps, easy-going. He may have never had the desire to push himself forward as a leader. Or, he may have been a heroic leader at one time, but, now, after some tragedy in his past, he wishes only to lead a quiet life.

In such movies, this hero is always called into action despite his reluctance. There is always some compelling reason why he and he alone is qualified to stand in the breech. His fellow townspeople or his fellow countrymen look to him for help against an evil antagonist. When thus propelled into leadership by the plot, the strong, silent type bravely stands his ground for goodness and truth against all enemies. He calmly solves crises where other characters in the movie have failed.

If a heroine is involved, she is usually spirited and vivacious. She may be slow to realize the worth of the strong, silent man, even if she has known him all of her life. In fact, she may barely realize that the strong, silent man is alive. She may initially be more drawn to a much more dashing character.

As we could have told our heroine from the beginning, the more dashing character invariably turns out not to be all that she thinks he is. At some point, the heroine begins to understand that the strong, silent hero has a greater depth of character than his flashier rival. She starts to fall in love with him. But, she is dismayed, because she cannot figure out if the strong, silent type loves her or not. After all, there is a reason why he is known as the silent type, especially when it comes to deep emotions.

Of course, as members of the audience, we have more insight into the strong, silent hero than the characters in the movie do. Perhaps, at the beginning of the story, few characters in the movie appreciate the hero. Maybe, no one predicts that he is just about to do something heroic. But, we in the audience know from the opening credits that this strong, silent type is going to prove his true worth.

How do we know this? The writers and directors give us visual and musical clues to what is really going on in the hero's heart. They give us hints about the character's back story. They instruct the actor to portray inner thoughts simply by the expression on his face. We glean much from the hero's interactions with the other characters.

We know, before the heroine does, that the strong, silent hero loves her to the point that he would give his life for her. We also know that the dashing character talks a good game, but actually has selfish motives for pursuing the heroine. We cringe every time the rival sweet talks the heroine, while the strong, silent type stands by with an expression of pain on his face. (Oh Marianne, why can't you see that Colonel Brandon is the man for you!)

Throughout the movie, we root for the strong, silent hero to save the day. We also want him to win the girl. We are relieved when he does solve the movie's crisis. We are even more relieved when he finally takes the heroine in hand and declares his love to her. We cheer when she agrees to marry him. This is usually when the movie ends.

The question is, what happens after the closing credits roll? What if we were to see a new movie featuring our couple a few years after they have married? What if the heroine remains by nature lively, outgoing, talkative, and energetic, while her hero is still quiet, thoughtful, introspective, and easy-going? What if she expects him to do something heroic and romantic every day, while he just wants to go back to his ranch or to whatever life he was leading at the beginning of the movie?

There's nothing wrong with either the hero's or the heroine's basic personality. In fact, her outgoing nature is what makes her an appealing heroine, and his deep, quiet nature is what makes him an appealing hero. However, the different temperaments of the hero and the heroine means that they see situations from different points of view. Even though they have ridden off into the sunset together, they still must deal with occasional misunderstandings. In fact, it may take our hero and heroine some time to learn how to work together in happy partnership.

Likely, we won't see a movie of how the hero and heroine go about the business of ordinary life. Hollywood focuses on drama and instant romance and seldom tackles the subject of how a great marriage is forged day by day, decision by decision, prayer by prayer.

I, personally, am married to an outgoing man. But, I know many women who are naturally very outgoing, while their husbands are real life strong, silent heros. A wife in this situation often wonders how her quiet husband can lead the family. She may mistakenly associate outspokenness with leadership, and she may wrongly assume that if her husband is slow to express his opinions that he is not leading. She may also may wrongly assume that just because he is not as vocal or argumentative as she is that he doesn't care. And, she may mistake his silence on a matter for agreement with her position, when, really, he may be going along to keep the peace in the marriage. Or, perhaps, he is still mulling a matter over in his mind and just hasn't weighed in on the matter, yet.

Spirited women who are married to quiet men can also become insecure if their husbands don't easily express affection. An extroverted woman can bowl over her more introverted husband, without even meaning to. She can unintentionally intimidate him into being even quieter than he might normally be.

An outgoing woman may try to push a strong, silent type into a mold that he doesn't really fit. She may compare him to men who take visible leadership roles in the church or in other realms, and berate him for not serving in exactly the same way they do. In the process, she may overlook the many ways that he serves behind-the-scenes.

Or, a vivacious wife may incorrectly imagine she needs to stifle everything about her own lively temperament in order to help her husband lead. She may try to push herself into a mold she doesn't really fit, either.

So, how does a woman with an outgoing temperament relate to a strong, silent man? First, she can learn to listen to him in the way she would absorb the characteristics of a movie hero. Oh, there's no musical sound track to life, so she won't here the orchestra come to a crescendo every time her hero's heart beats with love for her. But, a watchful wife can pick up on real life clues to her hero's heart.

While a wife's outgoing chatter may be very charming to a quiet husband, there may be times when she needs to refrain from talking in order to listen closely to him. Often quiet people need some moments of silence before they can put their thoughts into words. If someone else is constantly talking, they may never be able to break into the conversation.

The wife of a strong, silent man can pay attention not only to his words, but to the man himself. She can watch for visual cues from her husband's expressions, just as we all instinctively note the expressions on an actor's face. She can watch how he interacts with others. She can put together what she knows of his background with what she seems him do in the moment.

The outgoing wife can learn to appreciate the good qualities that go along with a strong, silent nature. Many strengths are typically associated with more introverted personalities. If the wife discovers which strengths are present in her husband's character, she will be better able to understand and to appreciate him.

Maybe, the strong, silent husband has a dry sense of humor. Maybe, he knows just the right quip to make to defuse a tense situation. Maybe, he keeps his head when everyone else around him panics. Maybe, his calm presence helps those who panic to calm down, too. Maybe, he has deep principles, even if he's shy about expressing them. Maybe, he is a man of perseverance and loyalty. Perhaps, he is able to analyze a situation and size up the essential considerations. Maybe, he's good with details, or, perhaps, he excels in math or music. Perhaps, he is diplomatic in nature, and he may be better suited to resolving conflicts between people than someone who comes on too strong. Maybe, he's the type who is always there when you really need him.

Most of all, the wife of a strong silent type must guard against becoming insecure. It will help her to remember that while the silent hero may not be very expressive, that is no indication that he has ceased to love her. It's often those who are quiet and thoughtful who love in the strongest and deepest way.

Perhaps, a strong, silent husband expresses his love in actions, rather than words, and she may have to learn to read those actions as signs of love for her. In time, as she encourages her husband to be more confident, he may learn to express his love more verbally.

It's important for the wife of a quiet man to listen even when he discusses topics that don't interest her. (Actually, this is important for all wives to do, but even more so for the wife of a a quiet man.) The wife of a silent-natured man may be the only person in the world who will love him enough to care about the things that matter to him. She may also be the only one who gives him a real listening ear. Simply by listening to him, she might be the only person who will draw out feelings that are locked deeply in his heart.

Extending a listening ear even when a man may be talking about something that we have no interest in is one way to practice the golden rule. After all, we all have subjects that we want to discuss, and we may wish for others to politely listen as we share, even if we talk about subjects that might not naturally interest them. (How many people are really fascinated with the stories we tell about our children and grandchildren! But, don't we bless them for giving us an opportunity to share, anyway!) I know how much I benefit when my husband encourages me to talk about my feelings for an hour or so. Many times, I have feelings that are hard for him to relate to. But, I so appreciate his willingness to listen.

A wife can help others pay attention to her silent man, as well. Certainly, she can train her children to listen to their father. She can point out his strengths to them so that they appreciate him. A wife can speak well of her husband to friends and acquaintances, so that they will understand the many hidden, wonderful qualities of her silent, strong husband. All of this will build up a quiet man's confidence.

I once read about a woman who concentrated so intently on her husband's conversation at a dinner party that everyone else at the table began to listen to him, as well. He was not an interesting talker, but the attention she paid him helped him find a place in the conversation.

Since opposites really do attract, the outgoing wife and the strong, silent man each have something that the other needs. When their strengths are combined, they can accomplish more together than either one could accomplish alone.

The outgoing wife should not feel that she has to throttle her entire personality in order for her strong, silent man to function as the leader of the family. But, she should study ways to express her nature in ways that encourage, rather than discourage, her husband. It is possible to be lively and outgoing and to have deep convictions and, yet, to also cultivate a gentle, calm, and respectful spirit. I have known many vivacious and spirited women who demonstrate obvious respect for their quieter husbands. And, I have known many such men who have been real leaders in their family, in the church, and in the business world.

Of course, the situation can be reversed. The woman may be deep and thoughtful, while the man is outgoing. Again, the outgoing man and the quieter wife will have to work at understanding each other. They will need to learn how to work together as a team that utlizes their combined strengths. But that's another topic for another day.