Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Rediscovering My Mentor for Living Beautifully

Photo Credit: My husband

Years ago, I discovered the life philosopher and author Alexandra Stoddard. It was the late 1990s and I was handling public relations for a group of interior designers hosting her as a speaker. To prepare my PR materials, I HAD to read her book Living a Beautiful Life: 500 Ways to Add Elegance, Order, Beauty and Joy to Every Day of Your Life (I know. It was a tough job, but someone had to do it.)

I adopted many of her suggestions in that book, and to this day, much of her advice has simply become part of the rhythm, rituals and flow of our family's household.

I was thinking about her the other day as I pulled a loved, but chipped dish down from my newly painted cabinets (she talks about loved, chipped dishes in her book). I idly wondered if she had written any more books over the last several years.

A quick Amazon search turned up a gold mine of her work. She's written sixteen books! Her work includes Choosing Happiness: Keys to a Joyful Life, Things I Want My Daughters to Know: A Small Book About the Big Issues in Life, You Are Your Choices: 50 Ways to Live the Good Life, Happiness For Two: 75 Secrets for Finding More Joy Together, Things Good Mothers Know: A Celebration and many others.

I immediately downloaded two of her books to my ipad and ignored my to-do list for much of the day to read them.


You Are Your Choices: 50 Ways to Live the Good Life reminded me to be more mindful of the things I read, watch and actively seek to occupy my mind. Real Housewives reruns may be entertaining, but wasting hours watching them is not the path to leading a meaningful life (my inner sloth says, "awww phooey!") Stoddards shares great wisdom about staying true to ourselves which is invaluable to me as I step a little deeper into the silent noise of social media. It can be easy to loose touch with what we really think and believe when we are constantly reading others' thoughts through endless posts, tweets and comments.

Things I Want My Daughters to Know: A Small Book About the Big Issues in Life is a beautiful gift to not only her daughters, but all women. She shares what it means to be a woman of poise, purpose and joy, adjectives I'd love to have associated with me although I know I miss the mark way too often. She provides practical tips for dealing gracefully with ourselves and others as well as a solid philosophy of seeking life's highest ideals.

I'm so grateful to her for sharing herself through her books. Her unique perspective on how important it is to live well, the courage living well demands and a vision for how that can look is more important now than at any other point in history.  Depth, mindfulness and creating sacred rituals are urgent touchstones in our fast-moving world driven by quick impressions.

I believe that books fall into our lives at the exact moment we need their wisdom. These books have hit my awareness at just the right time. I can't wait to read the rest of them. I'll write a post for other books of hers as soon as I ignore my responsibilities another day to read them!

You can learn more about Alexandra Stoddard and order her books at or

Friday, October 26, 2012

My Two Scents

"A woman's perfume tells more about her than her handwriting." - Christian Dior 

Since I was a little girl sitting at my mom's dressing table, I've loved perfume. I love the bottles, the scents and the glamorous, glossy ads. Perfume makes everyday life seem more exotic.

1983 Givenchy III perfume french ad 
Image Source: ADmazing on Photobucket
I feel perfume is one of the few things worth a personal splurge. It may be costly, but it lasts for years and can be enjoyed every single day. I've felt guilty about buying a pair of $15 shoes or even a $4 cup of coffee, but I haven't wasted even one second of guilt over a $180 bottle of perfume.

I've always wanted to be one of those exciting women who wears a different scent for every mood, outfit or occasion. I've tried. I had a small collection of five carefully chosen perfumes, but as much as I dream of varying my perfume choice from day-to-day, I reach for the same one over and over again. Maybe I'm not as daring as I like to think I am, but I prefer to think it's because I know what I like.

My unfailing, go-to favorite is Quelques Fleurs L'Original. All of the qualities I've ever loved in other perfumes come together in this fragrance. It's a complex multi-floral, but it has a powdery softness and an earthy, spicy edge to it. It's sweet, but not too much so.

Quelques Fleurs has a great story behind it too. It was a groundbreaking fragrance when the historic perfume house Houbigant introduced it 1912. As one of the first multi-floral scents with 310 different flowers and 1500 petals per ounce, it paved the way for many other long-lived classics such as Chanel No. 5. The art crowd  of the time wore it, both women and men, including Dadaist artist Hannah Hoch, poet philosopher Rainer Maria Rilke and french actress Sarah Bernhardt.

 Sarah Bernhardt, french actress who wore Quelques Fleurs Houbigant perfume. c. 1844 - 1923. Photograph by Felix Nadar 1865. Image source: Wikipedia

This was not the first time an Houbigant fragrance inspired a following of famous admirers. Going back to its beginnings in 1775, Houbigant's legendary clientele is a Who's Who list of extravagant royalty: Marie Antionette; Napoleon; Josephine; Queen Victoria, and Russian Tsars, to name a few.

And since the relaunch of Quelques Fleurs in 2010, the Houbigant brand continues to attract celebrity fans today. Ivanka Trump, Guiliana Rancic and Dita Von Teese wear Quelques Fleurs. The full story is a lot for one post, but I highly recommend this excellent article by Jo Fairly at MailOnline about the relaunch of Quelques Fleurs and Houbigant's history if you want to learn more.

I've finally come to terms with the fact that I am biased against all other fragrances. I will never be an exciting fragrance-for-every-whim girl so to honor this reality, I've edited my perfume tray to two bottles: Quelques Fleurs, and my husband's favorite on me, Michael Kors.

While I believe perfume is quintessentially personal, I also think that wearing a perfume from time-to-time that your special someone prefers is good relationship manners. I wear Michael Kors for my husband on date nights, but for me, it's Quelques Fleurs every day. 

I'd love to hear from you. What are your favorite fragrances? Are you a match-your-scent-to-your-mood person or a signature-scent gal? Do you wear scents to please someone special in your life or just yourself? Please share!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Updating Our Kitchen for Under $200

I love almost every part of our kitchen, EXCEPT those cherry cabinets. As lovely as they were on their own, they just didn't match. I know it's kind of old fashioned these days, but I'm a big fan of matching (when I was a kid, I used to select my ice cream flavor to match the shirt I was wearing - I wish I could say I'm joking).

The counters are gray with black flecks and a pinkish undertone. The floor is pink-y beige and the backsplash is yellow beige. The red cabinets only added one more mismatched color to the mix rather than tying it all together. 

It's driven me crazy since we moved in seven years ago. Call it being obsessive or call it a "seven year itch," either way it was time for a change. I was NOT looking forward to the work or expense of redoing our cabinets though.

Through reviews online, I found Rust-oleum Cabinet Transformations (this post is not a paid endorsement for this product btw; it's just my account of what we did to our kitchen.) The reviews were mostly positive, and the before and after pics people posted looked great. So we decided to jump in and do it. We choose the expresso color, rolled up our sleeves, and got to work. 

There are four steps: deglosser (no sanding or stripping - yay!), a bond coat, a decorative glaze and a top protective coat. It's an easy process in that it doesn't require specialized skills, but it does require a lot of work which is to be expected for a project like this. 

Our kitchen has 26 cabinets and 11 drawers. It took two kits at approximately $60 per kit along with the cost of paint brushes and gloves. We started on Friday and worked six to eight hours a day through Tuesday. So was it worth it?

Ready for the big reveal?

I'd say it was definitely worth it! I think the kitchen looks richer and more elegant. The dark brown brings all of those pink, yellow, beige undertones together rather than fighting with them. Harmony at last (sigh).

Now that we've made this change, other things no longer look right. The light fixture in our dining area is too small and the wrong color (read Kitchen Update Part 2: New Chandelier for $60), and I'm thinking the front door needs to be painted to match the cabinets too. Our floor plan is very open. Four rooms are open and visible to one another from the kitchen, to the entry way, to the living area and dining area. No isolated quick fixes here.

Have you ever completed a DIY project to realize that now you've created more projects and work for yourself? If so, I'd love to hear about them and commiserate (while secretly jumping for joy because the truth is, I love home projects).