Friday, August 31, 2007

Has anyone seen something like this?

My father game me a beautiful old stained and polished lap desk that is made from a board. He has fond memories of his maternal grandmother writing letters on it, as well as knitting and tatting on it. He said that his grandmother never sat down without some type of work to do, even when company was present. He said she found many uses for that board. Of course, Dad's memories make the board very special to me, as well.

The board is broad and smooth, with rounded edges. It has an inward curve just where it would hit your waist, so that you can draw the board up to you. At the top back, there are inches marked off and painted -- much as you would see on a yardstick. Dad said that my grandmother had a chair that allowed her to use that board easily.

Dad's memories are starting to get a little cloudy, so I would like to find out as much about this kind of lap desk as possible while we can still talk about it and his memories of his grandmother.

Dad thinks the lap desk goes back several generations in the family before it came to his grandmother. Dad's maternal grandparents lived in Tennessee, where he was born and raised. But, they came to Tennessee from Missouri. Before Missouri, this branch of the family had lived in Pennsylvania. They were of German descent.

Has anyone seen such a lap desk?

My great-grandmother was still very vigorous when my father was young. She ran her household according to the energetic and orderly German methods of her fore-mothers.

However, she could not have been a young woman at the time my father remembers her. Her oldest daughter -- my father's mother -- was 42 when Dad was born. Dad was at least five when he formed his most vivid memories of his grandmother. So, she would have been old enough then to have had a 47 year old daughter by then. She died when my Dad was about in the fourth or fifth grade.

I know women used to use lap desks for correspondence. But, I didn't know that they used them to support handwork as well. Would the inches at the back have been for a school type purpose originally? Or, would they have been a way to measure stitches or lace?

I wonder if it was because of my grandmother's age that she used the lap desk to support her handwork, as well as for writing letters. Or, did other women use lap desks when doing handwork, as well? I'm not sure about the age thing, as I've never heard any indication that she allowed age to be an excuse to slow down. Neither did one of my mother's great-grandmothers, who raised twelve children, kept a plantation going while her husband was away at the Civil War, survived two unpleasant encounters with raiding soldiers, rode horses will into her seventies, and lived into the 1920's. And neither did one of her daughters, who married at 16 and went off from Tennessee with her new husband to tame part of Texas. After she was widowed, she lived by herself until she was 101. The family finally forced her to move in with relatives, and she lived on until she was 103. Ok, I'm feeling more than a little wimpy right now. :)

Anyhow, if you have ever seen a lap desk/board like the one I described and know something about this kind of lap desk, please let me know.


Thursday, August 30, 2007

Blog Design Woes

It's been brought to my attention that my posts may not appear on other people's computer screens the way they look from my end. I'm sure I've hit some button or another that I didn't intend to, and have created some mix-up in the blog-o-sphere!

So, I'll take a look at it and see what I can do to clean things up.

Thanks for bearing with me.


Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Health for the Homemaker -- Energetic Attitude

A few days ago, I talked about specificity of physical training, or, in other words, training our bodies to be fit for our tasks as homemakers. There's one component of physical health that we didn't mention, and that is mental attitude.

This is too big a topic to discuss in one post. But, today, I do want to look at this from one particular angle. Next to her faith and her faithfulness, the one quality that jumps out at you about the worthy woman is her energetic attitude. In fact, the Hebrew word translated as worthy or excellent can loosely be spelled chayil in English, and it was originally a term for a well-prepared army of soldiers who were strong in body and valiant in heart. It also denotes someone who is fit for his or her tasks, because he or she combines physical vigor with moral excellence and a willing attitude.

Now, some of us are born with a stronger physical constitution. Some of us are born with a naturally strong temperament, or we are taught healthy ways of thinking from a young age.

Others of us are naturally more challenged in this area. Even if we do have physical or emotional infirmities that make it difficult for us to be at peak vigor, chances are we can -- with God's help -- improve our situation. At the very least, we can count our weaknesses as opportunities for God's power to be displayed in us.

At any rate, even worldly scientists are discovering the role that a sound attitude plays in our overall health. So, if we want to be fit for our tasks as homemakers, it makes sense to invest in our emotional attitude. Here are some things to consider:

1) Sometimes, we can let our minds wander when doing household tasks. If I'm not careful, my mind can wander to negative things. There is a time to recognize problems and face them head on. But, what I'm talking about is allowing random brooding or fretful thoughts to run through the back of my mind. I may be hardly aware that I'm letting my train of thought derail until I realize that I've talked myself into a sore mood for no good reason. So, I have to consciously decide to keep my mind focused on both the tasks at hand and on positive things. If you focus on the positive long enough, your mind will usually drift there by habit rather than to the negative. But, even after you have developed a positive habit, you can't take it for granted. You need to be aware if you start to drift down a negative chain of thought.
2) Take a few hours one day and think about why you do what you do. Guilt? Duty? A desire to be loved and appreciated? A romantic dream in your mind of how things should be? For the Lord? Do you really believe deep down in your heart that the work you do in the home is important, whether or not you have an outside job, as well? How do the activities of your days fit in with your ultimate priority of loving and serving the Lord? Have you and your husband talked over your priorities? Don't linger long on this; too much introspection isn't helpful. But, taking a day now and again to ponder these things can help you stay focused and positive.
3) A wise woman once told a boy who was reluctant to do his chores, "Son, most of this world's work is done by people who don't feel like doing it." Some days, you may not feel motivated. But, if you push through and get going, likely you will become more motivated as your mind and body become engaged in your chores.
4) Every job, including homemaking has tasks that are pleasant and tasks that are unpleasant -- or, at least we humans find them so. When doing something that is needed, but isn't your favorite thing to to, focus on the benefits. Think how nice it will be when the chore or whatever is accomplished. Everything that you do will benefit someone, or else you wouldn't be doing it.
5) Try to find at least fifteen to thirty minutes in every day -- in addition to your usual devotions -- to re-surrender your day. Read the Word. Have a glass of something to drink. Make a conscious decision to relax. Go outside on a pretty day and just let your mind and your muscles rest as you enjoy the sun on your shoulders. This extra time of relaxation may not be realistic for every day. But, work these rest periods into your life on a regular basis, and you'll feel better for it.


Sunday, August 26, 2007


Wasn't it fun to take our "Grand Tour" of Europe with Eva? She did a great job of giving us a taste of different cultures. Now, students of real finishing schools generally take their Grand Tour upon graduating. But, we haven't quite graduated yet.

In fact, we have a delightful class coming up this week. Sherry is going to lead us in a handwork project or two. She has graciously volunteered to teach us ribbon embroidery. Note, this is a bit different than cotton embroidery. So, Sherry will guide us every step of the way. You can choose to make something to embroider or buy something and add the embroidery as a decorative feature

In the nineteenth century and before, every educated woman could do a little decorative handwork. This was often in addition to sewing skills that were needed for survival. In Gone with the Wind, it's mentioned that Scarlett O'Hara's mother seldom sat down without her sewing box and a sewing assistant at hand. If just family members were gathered together, she worked on mending. If company was present, she worked on a purely decorative project.

In days past, girls usually learned the basics at their mother's knee. We've all seen lovely old samplers that girls did to practice their needlework skills. Those who had the privilege of receiving an education also took classes in different types of handwork in order to improve their skills.

So, whether you already do a lot of handwork, if you never have and want to learn, or if you just want to read about the subject, please take a look at Sherry's site. If you are like me, you may have a busy week lined up. If so, you read the posts every day and then follow the instructions at your leisure. Her posts will eventually be archived along with the rest of the Finishing School Posts, but it's so delightful to read the classes on each teacher's own blog.

The name of Sherry's site is Redbud's Lane.

The link for her first post is .

While you're at Sherry's, check out her photo of beautiful satin boudoir shoes with silk ribbon embroidery that were made in the 1920's!

You all know my lack of linking skills. I do have someone who has volunteered to teach me how, and I hope we'll be able to get together this week for me to learn it. In the meantime, if you have trouble linking to her site from mine, I'm sure Emma can post the link on her site.

See you at Sherry's for class!


Friday, August 24, 2007

The Physical Demands of Homemaking: Specificity of Training

When I first started keeping a home nearly three decades ago, doctors and exercise physiologists dismissed the physical tasks of keeping a house clean as being of no exercise value. Now, experts are saying that household tasks are good for both your mind and your body.

Throughout my lifetime, health experts have always agreed that exercise is necessary to support cardiovascular health, to strengthen muscles, to stretch muscles and to keep joints flexible, and to relieve stress. However, every few years seems to bring some new idea about just how much exercise is needed and what kind is best. Physicians or exercise experts can tell you the latest recommendations, and you can work those into your life as you see fit.

It's been my experience that in today's time of modern convenience, housework is not necessarily enough to keep our bodies in shape. Our great-great-grandmothers got more of a workout keeping a home than we do. Even something as simple as beating a cake by hand was more strenuous than using an electric mixer is today.

Even though housework may not be as much physical exercise as it used to be, it is still more demanding than most people give it credit for. Having experienced the physical demands of homemaking firsthand, I do have a great respect for how much strength and stamina are needed to take care of a house. If you garden or do yard work, as well, you exercise even more. And, as every mother knows, raising children requites both mental and physical strength.

I am glad that experts are finally waking up to the fact that household tasks really are of great benefit to the mind and body. As with everything, the woman who puts more energy into homemaking will reap more benefits than the one who is neglectful of her tasks.

Young women are often surprised at just how tired they become when they begin to keep their own home. Even if they helped in their parents' homes, they may be amazed when they step into the role as keeper and guardian of their own homes.

A vigorous twenty year old may think, "Why is it that I can run two miles and hardly break a sweat, yet I'm exhausted from scrubbing all of the floors in the house?"

I, myself, am hardly a vigorous twenty year old. But, I find that it's easier to walk for twenty minutes on the treadmill than it is to do twenty minutes of certain other activities.

One reason for this is called "specificity of training". When you use one set of muscles over and over, that set of muscles becomes stronger. When you perform a certain movement over and over, your brain and body become coordinated to perform that movement more efficiently and more accurately. However, if a different set of muscles are called upon, or if the brain must coordinate the muscles to do an unfamiliar task, you may feel clumsy or get sore and tired quickly.

Thus, a long distance runner may be able to easily cover a half-marathon, yet have a hard time getting a bike up a high hill. The person who has trained for the Tour de France may be able to bike up the hill in a flash, but may get sore hamstrings after running a couple of miles.

Therefore, the athlete does certain specific exercises to improve certain specific skills. Take a tennis player, for example. Maybe, she has a great forehand, but her backhand is weak. If so, she may go through the motion of the backhand over and over until it becomes second nature to her. Or, if she has poor hand/eye coordination, she may bounce the ball up and down on her racket until she gets a better feel for how to work it so the ball makes contact with the center of the racket.

In the same way, a basketball player may dribble a ball over and over and over again. Or, she may do layups every day. A skier will do a different set of exercises than the tennis or basketball player. A golfer will do still another.

So, it is with housework. You may be in generally good shape. But, you may find it hard to undertake a certain household task. If so, you will need to build up the strength and ability to perform the specific movements needed for doing that task. As you keep "training" day in and day out, you will develop the muscles and the brain patterns that will make the task easier. Don't worry if you become extra tired during the first few days you are stepping up or changing your housework routine. Unless you are trying to do more than is realistic, you'll quickly get to a point where you are able to handle your work.

You may need a different set of specific muscle and brain pattern skills at different times. For example, this year, you may paint all of your bedrooms. By the time you have finished, you will have become faster and neater at painting, and your arms will move easily in the patterns needed to cover a wall with color.

Next year, you may dig up a small space where you want to plant herbs. When you being, you may be barely able to move a few clods of dirt. By the end, you can shovel with ease.

The year after that, you may decide to knit gifts for Christmas. When you first take up knitting, your fingers may seem clumsy and your hands may tire easily. By the time Christmas rolls around, your fingers easily perform the stitches and your hands can knit and knit and knit without tiring.

So, we see that the most obvious way of achieving specificity of training for a household task is, as Nike says, "Just do it!". If your arms ache when you mop and sweep, for instance, then what is the answer? Mop and sweep and mop and sweep, not shirking from this duty whenver it comes up in your schedule. Gradually, your arms will get used to it. Don't overdo one session to the point that you cause yourself injury. Overdoing it too often, too much could make you you dread the thought of ever going near a mop again. But, do push yourself more and more over time to build the specific strength required for this specific task.

Secondly, you may want to add some extra exercise to your routine. It's a good idea to do something of a cardiovascular nature, provided you have your doctor's ok. Cardiovascular exercise provides the base of general stamina on which specificity of training is built. If your heart and blood vessels are strong and efficient, you will have more general energy to call on when you are training your muscles to do certain tasks. Your muscles may become sore as you work on specificity of training, but you will be less likely to run out of gas all together. You will be able to put in a good day's work without it fatiguing you to the point of exhaustion.

Walking is a great cardiovascular exercise for a keeper of the home. Or, take an aerobic class. If you have many children at home, put on some lively music and march about and hop indoors. Let the children join in. Do whatever you can to get your heart rate up.

Set a timer and do as much housework as fast as you can before the timer dings. Check your heart rate or the perceived exertion scale on this one, because this may or may not provide enough exercise for your heart. If you are a twenty year old marathon runner, this may not raise your heart rate at all. But, if you are my age and haven't been keeping up with your exercise routine as you might, you will find that this really does get your blood pumping. The added benefits are that using housework as exercise makes tasks seem more fun and you are also building specificity of muscular training even as you exercise your heart.

Exercising your arms and hands can also be important to a homemaker's health. There is a reason why Proverbs says the worthy woman's arms were strong for her tasks. Now, I've heard that verse used as almost a direct command for a woman to exercise. I think to make that case so emphatically from this verse is reading too much into it. I have an idea that the women of that day would likely have gotten their strength from all the work and walking needed to survive in that time, rather than from an exercise program as we think of it. Therefore, I suspect the verse is just one of the many phrases used in that section to describe a woman who is vigorous in mind and body and suited to her responsibilities.

But, do notice how many of those responsibilities did involve the use of her hands or her arms. Almost every verse mentions something that the worthy woman did with her arms or her hands. No wonder the image of strong arms is used!

Therefore, I do think we can indirectly glean from this verse that taking care of our upper limbs will help us in our work. Today, we still find that most of our home keeping activities involve our hands and arms. We need fine motor skills in our fingers and strength in our upper limbs in order to carry out our tasks. Perhaps, like the women of old, we will develop enough upper body strength simply by going through our daily activities. But, if we do find our upper body strength is not sufficient, we can add strength exercises for the arms, wrists, and hands to help us. This may become even more important as we age, when we may also need to add specific exercises to combat arthritis pain in these areas.

As I've learned the hard way, we also do well -- so far as we are able -- to avoid injuring these areas, as such injuries can really slow you down. Another thing to remember is this: Because much of our work is done with our upper body and we look downward to do many of our tasks, it's easy to get in the habit of looking down even when it's not necessary. Or, even if we don't look down too much, we may still drop our head forward, out of alignment with good posture. This is not only unsightly, but, more importantly, it is also harmful to the upper body and can cause great pain in the neck and shoulders.

Stretching the body also helps the homemaker, particularly those of us who have passed the age of thirty or thirty-five. Many homemaking tasks require that we be fairly limber in order to perform them well. Also, staying flexible can help us avoid the aches, pains, and stiffness that come with aging. Maintaining our limberness from our youth onward will help us continue to keep our home even into our golden years.

Also, some vigorous housework followed by gentle stretching can be very relaxing. Releasing tension in this way can help us to be of good cheer and can support our overall health.

Of course, a woman will benefit if she makes an effort to keep all of her physical training built up over a lifetime, allowing for the inevitable slowing down process of aging. Oftentimes, however, a woman may have the stamina for many specific tasks only to lose it for a time. Perhaps, she is weaker after recovering from childbirth or illness. Or, maybe, some unsual life situation kept her from her regular tasks for a time. Or, maybe, her energetic young grandchildren are coming to stay with her for a few days, and it's been a long time since she carried and dressed and played childhood games with her own children. Or, she may simply have allowed herself to get out of shape.

If you find that you have lost either general or specific strength, don't despair. Unless you are facing a permanent health challenge, you can build your strength back again. I'm finding that I'm having to push myself now, as I have allowed myself to get out of shape for various reasons.

If you do tire easily from housework, set a timer for a certain period. Then, take a timed break before you return to your tasks again. Increase the length of the work periods until you can do more without collapsing in fatigue. You don't need to eliminate the breaks entirely. You will probably always benefit from taking at least a five minute break every hour or so. But, increase the proportion of work to rest until you are able to maintain more stamina and vigor.

Fortunately, homemaking exercises a wide variety of muscles and includes a wide variety of movements. You stretch to put something on a high shelf. You bend to put something into a low cabinet. You bear weight with your arms as you lift a toddler. So, as you develop specificity of training for each task of homemaking, these specific bits of training will add up to a more fit whole. You will end up benefiting a good deal of your body.

As with everything, there is a balance here. Some projects do become wearying to the body and mind if performed too long in one session. Some can cause eyestrain. Some can cause injuries from overly-repetitive motion, which is similar to a tennis player suffering from "tennis elbow".
Generally -- but not always -- these activities are the more sedentary ones we do, such as sewing, quilting, knitting, or working at the computer. Sometimes, these activities are also the ones that are the ones we find to be the most fun, and we may overdo them without even realizing how much time has gone by. How many of us have sewed something wih great relish, only to realize when we stand up that we are sore from sitting in one position.

If you're like I am, and you get your mind set on finishing a task in one setting, you may have to remind yourself to take frequent breaks. You may also have to remind yourself to use good body posture as you perform these tasks. For example, I work part-time from home as a freelance writer. I do have some problems with my neck that can affect my upper back and arms. If I get lost in writing and forget to stretch from time to time, I feel more pain from my neck injury. If I allow myself to sit or to hold my shoulders in an unnatural position as I work, the pain is all the greater. But, if I am mindful of both time and posture, I can do this work without creating pain.

One of the benefits of keeping a home is that you can set your own schedule for how you do it. If you give it some thought, you can rotate your tasks around so that you do not overtax one set of muscles to the point that you injure them. For example, if you have a home business which you run from your computer, work at it for an hour or so. Then, get up and clean your kitchen. Then go back to your computer, and, then, to a household task, and so forth. If you are trying to build up your stamina in the garden, but you have done enough for the day, cook something for dinner. Find something to do that uses a different set of muscles than the ones that are tired and achy. The key is to do an activity long enough each day to become coordinated and strong for the task, but to also provide some variety in your daily schedule.

This also helps you from building one muscle at the expense of another. Remember that muscles often work in pairs. Athletes who develop a strong muscle to perform a certain movement exercise the opposing muscle to keep a healthy balance. For example, if a weight lifter works on the biceps, he or she will also work on the triceps.

Unless we work out with weights or play a sport at a competitive level, we don't have to worry about the science behind this. We just need to include many different activities in our weekly schedules. What homemaker has trouble with that? Additionally, if we do exercise, we can remember to work opposing muscle groups. And, from time to time, we can take stock to see if we show any signs of muscle imbalance in the most common trouble spots: chest/back, lower back/stomach, quadriceps, hamstrings, shins/calves, and biceps/triceps.

The goal of specificity of training is to build strength so that you are not abnormally fatigued or easily made sore by your work. You will never, however, get to the point that you don't ever get tired from your activities around the home and yard.

In fact, a little healthy fatigue at the end of the day can actually be a good thing. People who physically tire their muscles through work sleep better than those whose work and lifestyle are sedentary. They also maintain a healthier balance between the chemicals that the body produces to motivate action and the chemicals the body uses to bring about relaxation.

Physical fatigue is generally less draining in the long run than is mental fatigue. Many people with sedentary lives become "brain tired", while their muscles remain "keyed up". When faced with demands of work, our bodies produce chemicals to give us the energy to move our limbs. Yet, sedentary work doesn't provide an outlet for these chemicals. In addition, sedentary work doesn't provide the exercise that the body needs. This can make a person feel fatigued, jittery, restless, and otherwise out of sorts.

So, if you do do sedentary work, either with a home business or because you work an outside job in addition to keeping your home, balance your sedentary times with times of movement. You may think you are too tired to do any house work after sitting at a desk for hours on end. But, if you make yourself start, you will probably find that your body and mind actually feel tons better. Just be sure to allow a half hour to unwind from both the physical and mental labor of yoru day before you go to sleep. (Ok, I do admit that allowing for winding down time is easier for me to preach than to practice.)

It used to be that women seldom suffered heart disease and that they lived much longer than men do. Since women have entered the "work force" in equal numbers to men, this picture is changing. Though women do still live somewhat longer on average than men do, more and more are suffering heart disease at earlier ages. A number of theories have been proposed as to why women's health is suffering these days, and the particular types of stress of the "workplace" is one of the more likely ones. But, I also wonder if women don't suffer more now because they are adopting the sedentary work style of men, rather than moving about and exercising in the home and yard. I just don't think that the human body was designed to sit all day. (I have work force and workplace in quotes. People use those words to mean corporate settings. But, a farm or a home is a workplace, too.)

At any rate, if you do work a sedentary job in addition to keeping your home, you must balance it with healthful movement. So, while you may need help to get your houswork done, be thankful that you do have housework to do. It could be an important key to your health.

In the grand scheme of things, Paul tells us that bodily exercise is of little importance when compared to training in godliness. So, it's good to surrender our goals to the Lord as we set out to develop specificity of training, stamina, coordination, and strength. We want to be good stewards of our bodies so that we can be strong for our tasks. We also don't want to suffer needlessly through our own sin or neglect. And, in today's world, we need to keep moving to counter the unnaturally sedentary lifestyles of modern life.

But, above all, we must act in dependence and trust, as well as with the disposition to be content with the Lord's will for our health -- whatever that may be.


Thursday, August 23, 2007

Spring Cleaning

Here's an old poem that I found called "Spring Cleaning". I don't know when it was written, but it appeared in an anthology of quotes and poems that was published in 1909.

Since those of us who blog about homemaking can relate to the freshness of a house that has just been through a thorough spring cleaning, I thought we'd all enjoy the imagery. One thought though: This poem speaks to cleaning out the dirt and dust of our hearts and letting the sunshine in. Our Lord said that our hearts must not only be swept clean, but also must be filled with the Holy Spirit. To have the Lord dwell in the heart is the heart's true joy. Matthew 12:43-45, John 14:23, Matthew 26:28.

The Spring Cleaning

Now open up the windows of the heart,
And let the sunshine penetrate the gloom;
Clear out the fears and doubts that grimly start
Like ghosts within the mind's dim haunted room.

Brush out the cobwebs that your malice wrought,
And sweep away the grudges that you bear;
Replace each petty and ungracious thought
With one that is forgiving, true, and fair.

And when the task if finished, you will find
That happiness is destined to remain
Within the sunlit rooms of heart and min,
And know your work has not been done in vain.

Reynale Smith Pickering

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Here are a few quotes from a book written in 1849 about the heart of being polite. The name of the book is the Lady's Vase. I thought these quotes fit in nicely with our Finishing School theme.

1) "Honor all men," says the apostle. This is the spring of good manners; it strikes at the very root of selfishness: it is the principle by which we render to all ranks and ages their due. A respect for your fellow-beings—a reverence for them as God's creatures and our brethren—will inspire that delicate regard for their rights and feelings, of which good manners is the sign.

2) If you have truth—not the truth of policy, but religious truth—your manners will be sincere. They will have earnestness, simplicity, and frankness—the best qualities of manners. They will be free from assumption, pretense, affectation, flattery, and obsequiousness, which are all incompatible with sincerity. If you have sincerity, you will choose to appear no other, nor better, than you are—to dwell in a true light.

3) Every thing really valuable is sure to be counterfeited. This applies not only to money, medicine, religion, and virtue, but even to politeness. We see in society the truly polite and the falsely polite; and, although all cannot explain, all can feel the difference. While we respect the one, we despise the other. Men hate to be cheated. An attempt to deceive us, is an insult to our understandings and an affront to our morals. The pretender to politeness is a cheat. He tries to palm off the base for the genuine; and, although he may deceive the vulgar, he cannot overreach the cultivated. ... True politeness is the smoothness of a refined mind and the tact of a kind heart.

4) Vanity, a love of display, an overweening desire to be admired, are great obstacles to self-possession; whereas, a well-disciplined and well-balanced character will generally lead to composure and self-command. In a very elegant assemblage, in a large drawing-room in a Southern city, I saw a young lady walk quietly and easily across the apartment to speak to a friend, who said to her: "I wanted very much to get to you, but I had not the courage to cross the room. How could you do it?—all alone, too, and with so many persons looking at you!" "I did not think of any body's looking at me," was the reply; and in that lay the secret of her self-possession. Very modest people believe themselves to be of too little consequence to be observed; but conceited ones, think every body must be looking at them. Inexperienced girls, who are not wanting in modesty, are apt to dread going into a crowded room, from an idea that every eye will be turned upon them; but after a while they find that nobody cares to look at them, and that the greater the crowd, the less they are observed.

Your enjoyment of a party depends far less on what you find there, than on what you carry with you. The vain, the ambitious, the designing, will be full of anxiety when they go, and of disappointment when they return. A short triumph will be followed by a deep mortification, and the selfishness of their aims defeats itself. If you go to see and to hear, and to make the best of whatever occurs, with a disposition to admire all that is beautiful, and to sympathize in the pleasures of others, you can hardly fail to spend the time pleasantly. The less you think of yourself and your claims to attention, the better. If you are much attended to, receive it modestly, and consider it as a happy accident; if you are little noticed, use your leisure in observing others.

5) If your mind is alive to the wishes and claims of others, you will easily perceive when it is a virtue to talk and when to be silent. It is undue pre-occupation with self which blinds people, and prevents their seeing what the occasion requires.

You can find The Lady's Vase online at Project Gutenburg. I found many very thought-provoking gems in this little book. But, there were other parts that I either didn't find to be very sound or didn't find to be very useful. So, please be aware that while I do think many of you would enjoy reading it, I do have some reservations about it. Use your own judgment.

Finishing School News:

Someone has graciously offered to teach me how to do links correctly, so I should be learning soon. That will help our Finishing School communication to go more smoothly.

We only have a few weeks left in our "curriculum", but some exciting topics are still to come.

In the meantime, I hope you're enjoying the Virtual Grand Tour of Europe over at Love, Life, and Laundry.


Monday, August 20, 2007

Finishing School News!

This week we have a special treat. Some of you may read Eva's blog, "Life, Love, and Laundry." She now lives in the U.S., but originally hailed from Belgium. She's going to take us on a Grand Tour of Europe. (Remember, a young lady who attended a finishing school in the nineteenth century likely finished by taking a real life Grand Tour. Since we can't all go do that, Eva's going to take us on a virtual tour). Eva will concentrate on the positive things we can learn from the women and culture of each country. We are very honored that she is going to share her insights with us.

So grab your virtual passports, and let's go.

The link to Eva's site is Sometimes, people have trouble linking through to another site from mine. If you do have trouble, visit Emma's blog, Charming the Birds from the Trees. She already has a link to Eva's site in her side bar. And, if you have a tip for how I can make the links work better, please let me know.


Sunday, August 19, 2007

Table Settings

Here's a pretty setting for a bridal table. This was taken from a decades old pamphlet, but it would still be lovely today.

In one sense, the principles of the well-set table haven't changed in at least seventy years. It's good to understand the rationale behind these rules, because they are based on time-tested logic. When followed, they add to the convenience and comfort of a meal. Also, because they are familiar, they make family and guests feel at ease.

There are time-tested reccomendations for how to set a table for a breakfast, a lunch, a dinner, a buffet, a tea, a shower, a brunch, a picnic, etc. Far from being restrictive, these methods help you organize things so that your meal or event flows smoothly. Also, they allow a surprising amount of leeway for creativity. Additionally, these time-proven methods work as well for ultra-modern table furnishings as they do for more traditional looking tables, linens, and dishes.

On the other hand, people do feel freer today to experiment with new looks and new ways of doing things. If you want to try your hand at coming up with something fresh and striking, go for it! However, chances are your experiments will be more successful if you take the time to study traditional table settings, first. Don't just memorize the rules, although you will want to know them. Learn the thinking behind the rules. Then, consider seriously the convenience and comfort of the people who will be dining at your table -- both family and guests. You don't want to come up with a magnificent looking creation that forces diners to crane their necks to look at each other or that makes them feel crammed and awkward.

What is the old saying, "You have to know the rules to break the rules well?" If you want to experiment, simply look for new ways to accomplish the same things that the old rules accomplished. Apply some thoughtfulness and logic to your fresh, free-spirited design, and you're sure to come up with a winner.

For examples of how to set a table for various occasions, visit, and read the articles about table settings. Study the diagrams and think about why they are set up as they are.


Thursday, August 16, 2007

HELP, My table is small...

Do you live in an apartment with a tiny eating area and room for only a small, round table? Are you setting up housekeeping with only a card table for your dining surface? If so, you can find creative ways to set a lovely table and even to serve several guests in your home. The following are some suggestions:

1) Hunt garage sales, thrift stores, and relatives' attics to find a small table -- preferably one that folds or rolls away -- that you can use as a sideboard. You might luck upon a lovely tea cart, but even a microwave cart will do. Place your serving dishes and pitchers for re-filling glasses on this cart or table. On your eating table, set out only the dishes and utensils that each person will need. Consider leaving off the bread plate and the salad plate and having only the dinner plate. By using a "sideboard" to hold extra things needed for the meal, you may find that you will even have room on the eating table for a small centerpiece and possibly a few candlesticks as well. When the meal is over, put up the food and the pitchers, and use the cart to roll away dirty dishes.
2) Make a dessert that can be placed on individual dessert plates ahead of time. When it comes time for dessert, whisk the dirty dishes to a sink of soapy water and pull out the dessert. You could also put salad into individual bowls or salad plates ahead of time. If you are having company, ask one of the women ahead of time if she will help you manage the courses.
3) Serve buffet style. Set up chairs in your living room for guests. Push your small eating table back against the wall. Place the centerpiece and candles toward the center back of the table and arrange the serving dishes and eating dishes and utensils in a pretty, convenient arrangement moving forward and out from there. Or, if you have a kitchen island, make that the center of your buffet. Set chairs around for your guests, If you and your friends are young, some may not even mind sitting on the floor. You can even throw down large cushions or pillows for this purpose. Remember, if your guests will be sitting in chairs or on the floor, they won't be able to balance a whole lot. And, they won't be able to negotiate flimsy plates. If you are serving a casual buffet and you are using paper goods, make sure that the plates are sturdy enough for guests to manage in their laps.
4) Have baked potato suppers, chili suppers, ice cream suppers, make your own pizza parties, etc. Or, have a party in which you serve heavy hor d'oeuvres rather than a traditional sit down meal. In the summer, have a cook-out. In other words, do something that is simple and in which the guests help with the preparation. The only drawback is that if your guests must sit in chairs without a table or on the floor, some of these foods can be pretty messy. So, think carefully about how your guests will manage beforehand. If you can find some inexpensive TV trays at a garage sale or thrift shop, these can go along way towards helping guests eat comfortably. Two people can even share a table by placing their drinks on it, while holding their plates in their lap. Another idea is to forget serving a dinner and invite people for dessert instead. Most people can manage a dessert plate and a beverage fairly easily. (Don't let pets and toddlers roam freely over a floor on which people may have set beverages.)
5) Set up a card table in addition to your usual eating table. Place a pretty cloth over it. A card table will hold four more guests. So, if you can seat four at your regular table, you can host eight simply by setting up a card table. Make sure that the two tables are far enough apart that people from each table will not bump into those from the other table. If you must put the extra four guests in a completely separate room, bring everyone together for coffee and dessert. Have people circle up their chairs while eating dessert.

Note: The solutions in which guests must eat in chairs without a table or on the floor are not "ideal". But, I've hosted such parties and have attended many, as well. If you can manage to make your guests feel comfortable in these settings, go for it! If you wait until you have the ideal table or the ideal eating space to show hospitality, you'll miss out on a lot of fun.


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Setting the Table -- The Covering

For ultra-formal meals, a table covering is not used. Most of us will never serve a meal in our home that is at that level of formality.

So, for most of us, here are the things to consider regarding table coverings:

1) The purpose of a table cloth is to protect the table, to protect dishes, to keep down the noise of clattering utensils, and to make the table look pretty. If you can afford it, try to have one beautiful white or ecru cloth for a more "formal" or traditional meal, a washable colored damask or some other type of cloth that can be used for a variety of occasions, and a very casual and no-iron cloth for every day family meals. When acquiring linens, take into consideration the following: Do I have both a dining room table and a kitchen table? Do I have a picnic table or do we take frequent picnics away from home? What shape are my tables? Do I like dainty or solid looking dishes and glasses? If the cloth is a print, will it look too busy when I set it with my dishes? (White and solid color dishes can take more distinctive tablecloths; patterned dishes need something of the equivalent level of dressiness as the dishes, but that won't compete with the dshes, themselves.) What shape are my tables?
2) There are two situations (other than the highly formal meal above) in which you may want to let more of the wood of the table show through: 1) Your table has an unsually beautiful wood surface and 2) your table is a rustic looking table with an interesting wood or other surface. Or, you may not particularly want to show off the wood of your table, but you may simply not like the bother of keeping up with cloths. (If you think that tablecloths are harder to deal with than place mats, you may be surprised to find that this is not always the case. A set of must-iron place mats take more work than one of today's little or no ironing required tablecloths.) If you really don't want to use tablecloths, will find that place mats are suitable for most meals. Still, you will want to have one pretty cloth that can be used when you want to set your prettiest table.
3) There are many lovely table cloths today that require little or no ironing. There's nothing like a freshly ironed cloth, but in today's busy world, these no-iron cloths can be handy. If you have an everyday one, you can throw it in the washer and dryer and then put it right back on the table again.
4) A properly folded tablecloth should have only one crease that runs directly down the center. When you are either ironing a cloth or folding it to be put away, take this into consideration. If you have no other choice but to fold it so that it leaves more than one crease, aim for a crisp checkerboard look. Or, you can take out the extra creases with an iron. See #3 and use a wash and dry -- no iron -- tablecloth for every day.
5) If your tablecloth is a bit "wrinkly", run it through the fluff cycle of your dryer along with a damp cloth.
6) In general, white damask cloths are the most formal and traditional and are reserved for dinner.
7) Colored damasks are less formal and can be used for lunch or dinner.
8) Lace or cutwork tablecloths are generally reserved for dinner, a tea, or a nice luncheon.
9) Print cloths, plain white or colored cloths, and cloths from homey type materials suit most meals.
10) To truly protect your table, you may find that you must use padding underneath your tablecloths. This is particularly true of a dining room type table. Most kitchen type tables do fine as long as you place some sort of trivet underneath any hot or sweating food dishes. You can buy commercial table pads that have a foam back and a vinyl top. You can also find specially treated and padded vinyl cloth that is made to be cut to the shape of your table and used underneath a cloth. A layer of felt is another way to protect a table's surface. Or, you may find some other creative way to pad your table underneath your cloth. Whatever you do, don't leave the padding on the table overnight or longer. Moisture can get underneath the padding and damage the finish on your table -- which is the very thing that the padding is there to prevent. Table padding is meant to stay on your table only a short time.
11) What size should your tablecloth be? Preferably, a cloth will extend six to eight inches past the edge of the table for breakfast and lunch. The dinner cloth should extend eight to twelve inches past the edge. At more formal dinners, the cloth hangs twelve to eighteen inches. If you inherit a beautiful cloth that doesn't quite fit your table, use your judgment. If it looks ok, I wouldn't worry about it being exactly according to this rule of thumb.
12) You may be surprised at the lovely table linens you can find at garage sales. Keep your eyes open for something that can help you fill in the gaps with regard to the linens you need for your family and guests. On the other hand, too many cloths can be burdensome to the home keeper. No matter how sentimental you are about the twenty tablecloths that Aunt Bertha willed to you, if they are crowding your drawers and closets, you will probably want to give away a few.


Setting a Table -- Some basics

1) Candles are used on the dinner table only or for any other type of night-time meal or party. Strictly speaking, you would never set out or use candles in the daytime. In other words, you would not have them on the table at lunch or for an afternoon tea. Etiquette demands that such lighting be used only when there is a real need for it -- i.e. after dark, when drapes are closed. However, I promise not to tell the etiquette police if you go wild and burn some lovely candles in the daytime for the fun of it. I merely want you to be informed of the rule, so that you won't break it unknowingly.
2) An important corollary of this rule is that you would never have candles on the table during a meal unless you intend to actually light them. The reason is that having candles on the table and not using them sends the message, "I will use these lovely lights later on, but not for you. You're not special enough to me that I would burn down my candles just for you." Thus, it makes your family and guests feel as if they aren't important to you. Now, I will share a secret if you promise not to tell the etiquette police about me: I will sometimes use candles in candlesticks as a decoration on my dining room table, when I am not serving a meal on it. Strictly speaking, this isn't adhering to the rules of etiquette. But, I do follow manners in this point: I never have candles on the table when we are sitting down to a meal in which they won't be lit. You will naturally use candles properly if you remember this: While they may make pretty decorations, their real purpose is as lighting. So, use them as you would any other lighting.
3) According to the rules of etiquette, you should never use less than four single candles or two candelabra at the dinner table. If using four single candles, you would have a centerpiece with two candlesticks placed on either side of it. The candlesticks should match. If you don't have four matching ones, at least use four of the identical height and similar shape and that go together well.
4) You may have heard that you should burn the wicks on candles before setting them out on the table. The reason for this, I hear, is that when electric lighting was new, not everyone had access to it or could afford it. Therefore, hostesses who did have electric lights would burn the tapers on their candlesticks to make it look as if they, too, still used candlelight frequently. They didn't want to call attention to the fact that they had the luxury of using light bulbs rather than candles if they wanted to. In this way, any guests at the party who could only use candlelight would not have to be ashamed of issuing a return invitation. If this is the origin of the principle, it was a lovely thought. However, it wouldn't be so vital today. If you are a traditionalist, burn the wicks on your candles just a bit before placing the candles on the table to be used.
5) Remember, the pattern that you use to place utensils and decorations on a table is a geometric one. If you are using a tablecloth, make sure it lies in straight, even lines. If you use a centerpiece, it should be exactly in the center of a table. Candlesticks, if used, are placed in identical positions on either side of the centerpiece. Each place at the table is set at the same distance form the next place. All table silver is placed about the same distance form the edge of the table (around 2 inches). Forks, knives, and spoonts, should lie in exact parallel lines at each place. If your plates have a design with a clear top and bottom, place them so that they appear straight to the eyes of the person sitting at that place. Bread-and-butter plates, glasses, salts and peppers, are in identical positions in relation to each place at the table.
6) In the old days, people used little salt and pepper shakers for each guest, or, at the very least, one salt and pepper shaker for every two persons. Some people today still use these little individual salt and peppers. If you have a large family or you are sitting guests at a long table, have at least two matching sets of salt and pepper shakers -- one for each end of the table. (Having the two sets match is best, but don't worry if you don't have such. Use what you have. The convenience of the people eating the meal is what is important.) You can find inexpensive small glass or crystal salt and pepper shakers at garage sales. Or, you can buy very inexpensive ones in stores. Also, if you are hosting a large party in which you will have guests seated at more than one table, make sure each table has salt and pepper shakers on it. Have just enough salt and pepper shakers to accommodate your family and a certain number of guests. Too many cause extra clutter in your kitchen or other storage area. Likewise, if you don't put out pats of butter at each person's place setting, make sure that you have multiple butter dishes placed on either end of the table for your guests' convenience.
7) The bread and butter plate goesw to the upper left of the dinner plate with the butter knife laid either horizontally or vertically across it.


Monday, August 13, 2007

This week's subject: Setting a lovely table

Post #1 in the Series: Why take the time?

This week, we'll be at my place for the topic of learning how to set a lovely table. Setting an inviting table for family and guests is one of the easiest ways to bring comfort and beauty to your home.

In today's world of rush, rush, rush, making mealtimes important is vital to creating a sense of home and family. We are all familiar with the statistics that say that kids from families who make eating together a priority do better in life and in their studies. A family's emotional and physical health is supported when the members can gather around a table that says, "Love lives here." The message that a thoughtfully appointed table sends to our family members is, "Someone cared enough to provide me with nourishing food in a nourishing atmosphere."

Not only that, but in today's world of rush, rush, rush, helping our family members slow down to enjoy a meal can contribute to their physical health, as well. How many times have I realized that my family was so much in rush mode that we were bolting down our food! That is a sign to take things in hand and create an atmosphere where people can eat and talk in a more leisurely manner. As you know, hurrying through a meal is bad for the digestion. We must chew our food thoroughly in order for the enzymes in our mouth to help us get the proper nutrition from our food. And, not only that, but food eaten in a hurry is more likely to result in heartburn and other irritations of our alimentary canal. (How's that for an old-fashioned way of saying digestive system?) Most of all, it takes a while for our digestive enzymes to signal to our brains that we are full. If we rush through a meal mindlessly, we will eat more than is necessary. A lovely or homey or otherwise comforting table encourages family members to eat mindfully, rather than to rush.

For an in interesting study, read through the Bible noticing all references to meals, to eating together, to feasts, etc. Both testaments are full of references to this subject. In some cases, the meals are literal ones. In other cases, they are figurative images designed to teach us something.

Knowing how to set a table for different occasions helps us show hospitality to others. Are you comfortable hostessing a tea? A wedding or baby shower? A buffet supper? A baked potato night? Learning how to pull different kinds of parties together and to set a table appropriately for each one will expand the ways you can bring people into your home.

Note that you don't have to have fancy china or linens to set a lovely table. Jesus fed the crowds on a hillside, and he cooked food for his disciples by the side of a "sea".

When we got married, our first eating table was a redwood picnic table with two long redwood benches. We bought this affordable picnic table with the idea of using it inside until we could afford a "real" table and chairs. Our plan was to move it outside and use it for family picnics once we were able to purchase something else. When we inherited some nicer furniture, that is exactly what we did. But, in the meantime, I had lots of fun covering that picnic table with a homey looking cloth and adding some simple flowers for a centerpiece. Our simple picnic table was the setting for many happy meals.

We have already learned from Meredith's posts that there are thrifty ways to make your table look neater and also to acquire pretty serving dishes. In this series, I may refer to a table set with traditional china and silver. I may also show some pictures to inspire us. But don't fret if you can't copy these ideas. Just use what you have in the best way that you can. The heart of hospitality is what counts most.


P.S. I don't know why the link to the Finishing School archive blog isn't working properly. I will work on that. So, by the end of the week, I hope to have the problem up and a week's worth of our former posts up for your convenience.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Finishing School Happenings!

Good evening, ladies. (It's Saturday night here in Tennessee).

Didn't both Courtney and Elizabeth do a great job with their subjects. Courtney left me with a lot to think about regarding modern etiquette. I knew that things like cell phones and emails had introduced new things to consider, manners wise, but I didn't realize just how much there was to think about. I found Courtney's advice to be very practical and insightful.

As I've said before, one quote that always sticks with me is this:
"No civilization ever collapsed because people were too polite to each other." So, I think of good manners as a sweet oil that keeps the gears of relationships moving along smoothly.

And, Elizabeth did a wonderful job talking about flowers in the home. That's a subject near and dear to my heart, though I still have so much to learn about using them. I thought Elizabeth's suggestions were so lovely.

If all works out as planned, here are some topics still to come: setting a lovely table, the best of various cultures, women of Central Asia, and embroidery. We should finish up our Finishing School in September. If we have enough requests, we may attempt "Course II" at some point.

Our central site is up. The link is

This week, I will begin placing all of the classes we've done so far on the central site. That way, you can review them. Or, you can visit the central site to catch up if you missed some classes or were late in finding out about our "school". I would like to invite you, though, to keep dropping by the blogs of our "teachers", who graciously volunteered their time to post about a particular subject.

We'd love to hear how you have liked the school so far. Leave a comment on my or Emma's blog to let us know what you've learned, any suggestions for future finishing school projects, thoughts you have about one of the subjects we've done, etc. Thanks to all who have posted. We've loved having your input!


Wednesday, August 08, 2007

What are you learning this week?

Here are the two major points I'm working on:

From Courtney: Be brief when I leave a voice mail message !

From Elizabeth (The flower Elizabeth) : In her comments section, she outlined such a lovely and easy way to make a rounded bouquet. I adore rounded bouquets, but have always had a hard time getting just the look I want.

There are other things I've learned from both of these ladies, as well. But, those are the two top priorities for me.

What about you?

Note: If you are having a hard time keeping up with both blogs this week, remember that you can always go back and digest them more thoroughly later. That's what I plan to do.


Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Here is Courtney's link:

Here is Elizabeth's link:

Be sure to visit both these blogs this week. The ladies have special posts for us!


Monday, August 06, 2007

Finishing School

Week of August 5-11

Well, we've been having such wonderful classes, and I'm learning so much. I can't wait to go back through everyone's posts, as there is so much to learn and enjoy in all of them.

In the process of doing the school, we've learned a lot about scheduling! I've have had some mix-ups in the teacher's schedule. I hope we're not confusing anyone.

This week's mix-up has resulted in a happy wealth of fun and informative things to read. 1) Courtney is doing classes for us about etiquette, especially modern etiquette. Certainly, that would be one of the main things taught at a real finishing school. 2) Elizabeth (not me) is doing a post about using flowers in the home. Elizabeth is very knowledgeable in this are and even has her own business. Arranging flowers is also a subject typically studied at a finishing school.

Isn't it amazing that we can learn all of these things for free -- from our friends in the blog-o-sphere!

Here is Elizabeth's link:

I'll get Courtney's post up as soon as I can. I don't want any of us to miss any of her lessons!


Friday, August 03, 2007

The Artist's World View: General Chat about About Styles in Art, Decorating, Music and Fashion

At a real finishing school, you would take courses in music and art appreciation, and you would learn about how styles and cultures have come in and out of fashion over the centuries. One reason you would learn this is to be able to converse with others who have an interest in these things. Another reason would be to understand art, music, etc., so that you can presumably appreciate it more.

A final reason would be so that you could achieve harmony in your own surroundings. For example, an understanding of periods would help you be able to blend antiques or reproductions or even modern furnishings into a home in a pleasing way.

Many of us are introduced to these things in the course of our education, even if we don't attend a "finishing school". You probably already know more about this than you might guess. What you don't know, you can learn by visiting museums and attending concerts, checking books out of the library, or reading articles online.

Now, I'm about to delve into a matter of opinion. Please feel free to agree or disagree with me. But, I do hope you will give it some thought.

Also, please note that when I refer to artists in this piece, I mean the term in the broadest sense. I include visual artists, musicians, writers, archietects, and craftsmen in this category.

There was a time when the arts were dominated by the "didactic" philosophy, which states -- in part -- that every work should be either beautiful or instructive. Early didactic artists believed art should inspire us to live up to high ideals. Often these ideals were drawn from Christianity, or, if they were not, they at least championed principles of morality, beauty, and order.

The didactic sculptor, for example, wouldn't want you to view a bust he did of a young man and walk away thinking, "Oh, wasn't that lovely? Now, what's for lunch?" Instead, he would want to communicate something to you by the beauty or nobility of the young man's face, and he would hope you would contemplate the piece long enough to be moved by the message.

In my opinion, the point of view that art should be either beautiful or instructive has a lot of merit. Some of the most magnificent works of music, art, and literature were created by people who held to this train of thought. After all, these artists set out to create beauty and to inspire, and we should not wonder that they did, in fact, do just that.

In one sense, we can ask, "What is the point of creating something if it isn't beautiful or useful or valuable in teaching us something good?" Do any of us get up in the morning with the wish, "I hope that the works of my hands today are ugly and pointless?" Not if we're healthy-minded.

Every thing God does or makes is both beautiful and fruitful, for his work flows from the infinite goodness of his nature. Since we are created in his image, we long to produce things that are good and lovely, as well. Also, we are encouraged when we encounter good, instructive, and beautiful works produced by others.

The weakness in the didactic line of thinking is that fallen people are not always in touch with what is truly beautiful and good. At the extreme end of the didactic school of art, people use art as propaganda. The causes they choose to promote are not always beneficial. Consider the artists, film makers, etc., who worked in the service of Hitler's campaign. Many were quite talented, but, tragically, they used their talents to promote evil. What a horrible legacy they left!

In the nineteenth century, a competing philosophy that had been floating around was finally crystallized. This theory was "l'art pour l'art" or "art for art's sake". Originally, this was a reaction to artists who served the state and the state church. The artists who served the state did so by creating didactic works. In the 18th and early 19th centuries, schools of art were dominated by these traditional didactic thinkers. At that time, the didactic artists, writers, etc., had settled into a comfortable rut. They kept re-creating the same types of things, rather than reaching for new heights. They throttled the enthusiasm of young students who wanted to explore different ways of doing things.

Some young artists chafed at this level of control over their works. They wanted to be free to create art simply for its own merits. They did not want to appeal to any particular line of thought, but simply to practice the principles of good art.

James McNeil Whistler wrote: Art should be independent of all claptrap —should stand alone [...] and appeal to the artistic sense of eye or ear, without confounding this with emotions entirely foreign to it, as devotion, pity, love, patriotism and the like.

One tenant of this thinking is that a work of art should be judged on its own merits. It should not be rejected simply because the person viewing the art disagrees with or disapproves of the artist, himself.

Now, there is some merit to this line of thinking, as well. If someone has the skills to capture a beautiful sunset on canvas or by camera, we can enjoy the resulting work of art without giving a thought to the artist, himself. Because he is creating a representation of one of God's glorious creations, the image inspires us. In the same way, we can enjoy a symphony simply because it is beautiful, though we know nothing of the composer. And, we do not have to know the potter's thoughts on politics to enjoy the beautiful blue bowl he created. Nor, do we have to know the philosophy of a poet who produces a beautifully written poem.

Sometimes, people do create works of art that transcend their own personal behavior and thought. If they are representing or writing about one of God's good works, likely, their work will mirror that goodness. In my opinion, is neither our job nor our right to go around judging the life of each and every artist or craftsman.

But, just as the didactic school of thought has its weaknesses, the philosophy of art for art's sake breaks down, as well. You see, the truth is that every person working in the fine arts and every craftsman has a world view, even if they haven't fully thought it out. Whether the artist intends to or not, he or she can't help but communicate some of that world view in the works he or she produces. Our deeds and the works of our hands do flow out of who we are. Movies, books, and music with lyrics are especially embued with the authors' view of life.

In the late nineteenth and throughout the twentieth century, a certain dark strain of art grew out of the art for art's sake philosophy. Many artists moved beyond the simple creation of art for its own sake. These artists sought to live counter to what they viewed as constrictive, middle-class morality. They wanted to shock and to offend, instead of to inspire or to teach what is good. They felt they were doing society a service by shocking people out of complacency. They wanted to "free" people from what they viewed as the chains of religion and morality.

Yet, in following this course, the artists actually turned out to be didactic in some sense. They were "preaching" anti-morality as blatantly as the old-line didactic artists tried to inspire morality.

Many commercial artists have tagged onto this way of thinking. This is probably because commercial artists have found that they can make money by titillating the public. For example, popular filmmakers say that they are pushing the creative envelope by showing bolder and bolder images and by using language and violence that is more and more shocking. They bring in viewers by appealing to our baser instincts. Thus, they take up the battle cry that standards of morality should not be imposed upon the arts.

We in the public are not innocent, however, if we pay money to view things that push people to accept lower and lower standards of morality. Supporting such works with our money only reinforces the opinion of filmakers that people really are happy with lowered standards. Every one of us will have to make our own choice about how to approach this problem. We all face similar dilemmas in the ad world.

With regard to art for art's sake, some artists who were disheartened by the horrors of World Wars I and II concluded, wrongly, that there is no higher power in the universe and, thus, that there is no higher meaning to life. These thinkers were agnostic or even atheist. Since they felt that life is without meaning, they sought to strip art of meaning, as well. In the visual arts, they wanted to communicate this sense of meaningless through very abstract, unconstructed images. This was true in the visual arts, in literature, and in music.

Other artists seemed to have interpreted art for art's sake as living for the sake of art. The artist became a slave to his art and sacrificed everything for his art. Such an artist elevates art to a place it cannot truly fill.

Still, other artists of the art for art's sake school believed that the only meaning that counted in art was whatever satisfaction the artist or craftsman got out of his own work. The artist created for himself alone. He was not interested in communicating anything to the people who viewed his art. Rather, the artist divorced art from communication altogether. His work was purposefully abstract and hard to read. The artist sought to have his own subjective experience in creating his piece of art, and he left it up to other people to have their own subjective experience when viewing, listening to, or reading the pice of art. As far as the artist was concerned, it was up to others to find their own meaning out of what he had created. If they could relate to the work in some way -- great! If not, they should merely appreciate it as the artist's own self-expression.

This was, perhaps, the most extreme form of art for art's sake. Yet, even here, the artist failed to truly create something for art's sake alone. He actually sent a message of self-focus, combined with a sense of meaningless, into the world. And, there is a bit of irony here. If the artist really wanted to create something for himself only, why did he seek to have it sold or otherwise publicly displayed?

Some artists did have a deeper meaning to their work. These artists sought to bring the uglier realities of life -- such as poverty and ignorance -- to light. They rebelled against overly sweet, sentimental art, because they felt that it glossed over the truth that life is hard for many people. They felt, perhaps rightly so, that such sentimental art failed to speak to human suffering. In their attempt to bring real problems to light, they often used images and techniques that were intentionally raw and ugly.

Here again, these artists back up on the didactic theory; in calling attention to a problem, are they not sending out a message? Some very gifted artists in this school of thought actually have inspired society to eradicate certain injustices.

However, a large number of artists have presented suffering as such an all-encompassing reality that the emotion they arouse is one of despair. They sent the message, "Isn't life sad and depressing and hopeless," rather than the message, "This is unjust; now, what will you do about it?" This latter type of artist fails to move people to act on behalf of the suffering.

Also, many artists focused in on their own personal suffering, which was often the indirect result of their own pessimistic view of life. This brings us back to the increasing self-focus of so many artists in the past two centuries.

All in all, artists in the late nineteenth and the twentieth centuries experimented with the purest essences of light, color, shapes, sounds, and words. Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with this. Each of these elements can be beautiful and meaningful when approached with appreciation. However, so many artists embarked on this experimentation from such a dark point of view that the results have left a bad taste in the mouths of many people. The pure essenses of light, color, shapes, sound, and words should be evidences to the artist and to us that there is an order set into the universe by a higher power. Sadly, many artists and consumers of art have missed this message.

Most people think that art for art's sake still is the dominant philosophy of the arts in our world, today. I would humbly like to suggest that this is not so. I believe that today's books, movies, films, home furnishings, etc., communicate the artists' world views more directly than people like to think.

Consider the fact that feng shei is so popular in decorating. Many use its principles without even realizing that it comes from an Eastern philosophy or that that philosophy relies on superstitious principles, rather than on God. But, many promote it knowing exactly what philosophy it entails.

Or, think about the recent films, "Sicko" and "An Inconvenient Truth". No matter what you think of these films, they are overtly didactic films. The film makers set out to "inform" you and influence you, according to their own beliefs. These films were also were made to motivate people to action, again according to what the film maker believes is best. Advertising is the most obvious vehicle that uses elements of art to induce us to buy things.

So, what are we to do? Do we accept without question any work of art, blindly absorbing the creator's world view? Or, do we appreciate only those things that were created by people who think just like we do?

I suggest that this is where we can exercise some common sense. 1) We should all realize that we are affected by the things we read, hear, and view. We are naive if we think otherwise. 2) We should also realize that every artist has a particular viewpoint and that he or she can't help put communicate some of that in his or her work. Some writers, artists, musicians and craftsmen are honest about the fact that they are expressing a particular world view. Others claim not to have a message in mind and some may even believe that they don't. But, most likely, there work does communicate something. 3) Every trend of art is driven at first by a particular philosophy or school of thought. When the trend becomes popular, people latch onto it without knowing the philosophy behind the trend. Thus, it is possible for someone to innocently appreciate an art trend without recognizing or internalizing its message. 4) If the message behind a particular work of art is not obvious to us, and we find it to be beautiful or intriguing, we can probably enjoy it on an innocent level. Thus, we don't need to needlessly analyze every trend of art that comes down the road. Some artistic philosophy is academic and has little relation to how we actually use art in our real life. If confronted with the underlying message, however, we will have to decide how we will respond to it. 5) Some eras have produced a greater amount of art that is inspiring and beautiful than have other eras. Since the fall of man, however, there has been no era in which every artist has presented a wholesome view of life. And, in every era, there have been at least a few artists who have created things of truth and beauty. We need to have discernment to recognize and choose the good things from any era. Today's works should not be rejected out of hand simply because they are of today. 6) In some cases, being presented with an idea counter to our own does cause us to think and to grow, provided that that idea is not something purposefully intended to tear down our faith. 7) We do well to choose to view and hear those things that are wholesome, useful, beautiful, encouraging, instructive, and of merit. 8) Others may be influenced when they see the types of arts and crafts that we enjoy. Not only does an artist or craftsman send a message to others, we, as consumers of arts and crafts, send a message, too. Again, we don't need to become paranoid about this. If you love certain mid-twentieth century abstract prints, it's not likely that the average person is going to think enough about art history to conclude that you think life is pointless. But, if you surround yourself with wholesome messages, you will be setting a good example for others. 9) People who create art from a Christian world view (or at least from a positive world view) will communicate best if they produce works of the best quality their talents allow. Such works will be better received if the artists keep the basic principles of art and literature in mind. If the works are better received, they will have more influence. Many a well-intended work of art has been rejected by the public and by critics because it was poorly executed.

I'm no art historian. The topic of didactic thinking versus art for art's sake is a bit complicated, and I'm sure that I did not represent every point correctly as I tried to distill it into a simplified form. If you have a better understanding of this, please leave a comment.

The major point, however, is to be aware that artists and artisans do not create in a vacuum. They are influenced by various philosophies and schools of thought. They naturally craft the things that influence them into their art, even if they do not realize they are doing so. So, we do we do well to focus on works of art that inspire us toward higher things.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this subject! So, if you visit The Merry Rose today, be sure to leave your comments on this post.


Thursday, August 02, 2007

Finding Your Signature Style:

While Emma's blogging about Feminity through the Seasons, I am going to do a supplementary post about Finding your Signature Style.

First, let me say that I don't believe that God means for us to spend too much time analyzing our ourselves in this context. For the Christian, the signature style is trusting in and walking like Jesus. So, if you aren't sure what your best colors are or if your decorating style is a hodpodge of hand-me-downs, that's ok in the grand scheme of things.

However, it can be fun and lovely to add a few personal touches to our life and to our appearance. One advantage to knowing your personal style is to bring some focus to your home and wardrobe. If you know what style you are aiming for, you won't be tempted to accumulate twenty items that strike your fancy, but that you don't really need. Instead, you will choose the one thing that you can really use.

Some people seem to gravitate to a personal style naturally. Without even thinking, they find that they are drawn to certain colors, certain activities, certain fashions, and certain home styles. Other people love variety and don't really know what their own personal style is. That's ok. You may find that you evolve into a personal style as you move through life.

Here are some ideas to think about:

1) What is your favorite little way of serving family and friends? Do you have something you love to do that isn't time consuming, yet brings joy to others? Now, we should serve in many ways. But, I'm focusing here on finding that one little thing that you can do to bring a smile to others. For example, I have a friend who takes her camera everywhere. She snaps a lot of photos. She gives those photos to people who were at an event. It's a special thing to have some of her candid photographs as rembrances of church events, birthday parties, baptisms, etc. My daughter's mother-in-law collects little gifts from yard sales and sends or takes them to people. I've gotten several packages from her in the mail that really made my day. The boxes contained something she saw a garage sale that made her think of me, and she sent them to me for no particular reason. My mother used to take one home-grown rose to someone who needed a bit of cheering up. I enjoy writing notes and cards.

Remember: The point isn't to call attention to yourself by getting people to notice your style. The point is to use something that you naturally enjoy as a way to make other people feel loved.

2) What is your style of dressing? Is there a color that always brings compliments when you wear it? Do you know what styles look best for your body type? How about dressing for your stage in life? Note: There are many different ways to achieve a modest and feminine look. Some women prefer ultra-feminine styles; others like a sleeker, more modern look. Some are sportier. What works best for you? A little understanding of your favorite and best fashion choices can help you build a lovely, coordinated, frugal wardrobe.

3) Do you have a signature accessory or style of accessory that you enjoy?

4) do you have a favorite scent? Or, do you prefer to wear a variety? Or, do you prefer to wear no scent at all, other than fresh and clean skin? Read an article about the different types of scents. See if one category jumps out to you. Note: You may find that the scent you loved at twenty isn't the scent you love at forty. Don't be afraid to change your favorite scent over a lifetime.

5) What is your favorite flower? Color? Food? Book? Movie? Some of us may not be able to narrow it down to one favorite in each category. But others will know right away what their favorites are. If you can't narrow it down to one, is there a category of colors, foods, books, movies you enjoy. For example, do you love pastels more or do you enjoy earth tones more. (I've seldom met a color I didn't like, but I know that I look best in softer colors.)

6) What is your favorite decorating style? Most of us who blog about home and family enjoy old fashioned styles. But, that may not be the case for you. Many people create comfortable and welcoming homes using modern styles. If you have no idea what your style is, check out a few books on decorating and art from the library.

7) What is one hobby or household activity that you really enjoy? Do you sew? Cross-stitch? Garden? Knit? Crochet? I know that I have a tendency to take on too many projects at once. The upshot is that I don't do any one of them well. I also have a stack of unfinished projects in my workroom. Busy wives and mothers may need to narrow down their focus to one or two hobbies or allow themselves only one or two special projects at a time.

Now, it's one thing to discover our own signature style. But, in creating a home, we also must consider the styles and preferences of our husbands and children and other people we live with. Sometimes, this is best learned by observation, although a few questions can help as well.

Do you know what your husband's style preferences are? What makes him feel comfortable?
Do you know the same for each of your children?
What about your friends? Do you know what types of gifts they would enjoy? Can you spot something in a thrift store or at a garage sale or on sale in June that would be perfect to give a friend for her October birthday? If so, you can buy when you see a good price and, thus, save money.


Emma's Back!

Check out her class "Feminity through the Seasons" at Charming the Birds from the Trees.

We're thankful that her computer is fixed and ready to go.


Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Finishing School News:

Emma is all set to go with her week of posts, but, alas, her computer is ailing. Her dear hubby is working on it. So, we hope that Emma will have her first post of the week up tonight. Please keep checking our sites for more updates.