The Elegance of New Year Intentions

I gave up on making new year’s resolutions. For several years, I’ve instead adopted a word of intention for the new year. The idea is to choose a single word that can serve as a guiding light for all areas of life for the next twelve months. This carefully chosen word provides focus and clarity to holistically live more intentionally, and ultimately, more elegantly.  

My past words have included simplicity, joy, nature, seasons, and peace. Each new year, I post the word in several places to be reminded of my intention and do my best to infuse the word into my daily life at every turn. Do I fail at times? Of course, but attention to the word helps me consciously make more choices that lead to living my best life. 

My word for 2022 is wisdom. I’m turning sixty this year and poised to embrace the wisdom I’ve gained from growing older. At this stage of my life, I’m pleased to say goodbye to things that used to seem so important, and I now count wisdom as one of my greatest values. I’ll have no shortage of challenges as I attempt to apply wisdom to everything I think, say, and do. A good place to start is with Socrates’ wise counsel, “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”

Do you have a word for the new year? Maybe I can help. There aren’t any rules, but here are some questions you could ask yourself to help you find your perfect word for the new year. How do I want to feel when I wake up each morning? What do I value most? How do I want other people to feel when they’re around me? What does my soul crave? What are my goals? What would make me happier? What is no longer serving my life? What is (and isn’t) my responsibility right now? What am I uniquely able to offer others?

Here are some powerful words to get you thinking – positivity, adventure, presence, creativity, gratitude, fun, courage, relationships, empower, relax, cheerful, learn, strong, balance, focus, grow, kindness, acceptance, passion, generosity, change, happy, organized, grace, confidence, quiet, home, relationships, calm, faith, motivation, wellness, energy, mindfulness, clarity, love.

Do any of these words resonate with you and your hopes for the new year? Once you’ve chosen a word, think about specific ways it might positively affect your daily round. How could a clear focus on your word influence these areas of your life?

  • your attitude 
  • your relationships
  • your home and possessions
  • your personal style
  • your work 
  • your physical, mental, and spiritual health
  • your activities and pursuits
  • your contribution 

With some soul-searching and contemplation, 2022 holds 365 chances to live our happiest, most intentional, and most elegant year. I am always inspired by Anne Frank, who wrote in her diary, “What a wonderful thought it is that some of the best days of our lives haven’t even happened yet!” §

Note to Subscribers: In my search for simplicity and elegance, The Simple Swan will no longer appear on Facebook or YouTube. I want to focus on writing my blog and newspaper column in the weekend edition of the Southern Illinoisan. Thank you so much for subscribing!

To Subscribe: Click on the blue “Follow” button located to the left of your computer screen or at the bottom of your phone. It will prompt you to enter your email address. once you confirm, you will receive an email from WordPress on Sunday mornings containing only my post for the week. Thank you!

Contact Me: Alicia@thesimpleswan.com

The Elegance of the Winter Solstice

Growing weary of the dark days? Take heart. The Winter Solstice arrives this week and, for good measure, will coincide with the glow of a waning full moon. Nature remembers what we sometimes forget. Darkness is always ousted by the elegance of light.

This return to light isn’t just a positive affirmation, wishful thinking, or snappy ad campaign. It’s indisputable, mind-blowing scientific fact. In the Northern Hemisphere, the shortest day of 2021 comes on December 21. That’s when the sun will be at its lowest point in the sky.

Solstice, in Latin, means to stand still. At the Winter Solstice, the sun reaches the latitude called the Tropic of Capricorn. The southward movement of the sun seems to stop before it reverses direction and begins its path northward bringing longer, lighter days.

The Winter Solstice also marks the beginning of our astronomical winter. (As opposed to the meteorological winter which began December 1.) Some may bemoan the upcoming season, but we can choose to find elegance in the quiet beauty of winter knowing that spring is on its way.

According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, this year the Full Cold Moon reached its peak last night on December 18, just before the Winter Solstice. Also known as the Long Night Moon, this will be the last full moon before the end of the year. A full moon is six times brighter than a half moon, making it the brightest object in the night sky, and far brighter than the brightest planet, Venus.

I don’t know about you, but I think we could all use that extra dose of promising light about right now. Are the world’s troubles troubling you? Perhaps a loved one is going through a difficult time. Maybe you are experiencing a dark time in your own life. The Winter Solstice can signify a turning point, a time to release the darkness in favor of the light and positive energy.

Nature is urging us to see the light and be the light. So put another log on the fire, light the candles, and string up those holiday lights. Bask in the promise of the stars shining in the night sky and the one atop your tree. Fill yourself with warm, twinkly light so you can go out and shine in all your elegant glory. In the words of John Lennon, “Yeah, we all shine on, like the moon, and the stars, and the sun.”§

Note to Subscribers: In my search for simplicity and elegance, The Simple Swan will no longer appear on Facebook or on YouTube. I want to focus on writing my blog and newspaper column in the weekend edition of the Southern Illinoisan. Thank you so much for subscribing!

To Subscribe – Click the blue “Follow” button located to the left of your computer screen or at the bottom of your phone. It will prompt you to enter your email address. Once you confirm, you will receive an email from WordPress on Sunday mornings containing only my post for the week. Thank you!

Contact Me – Alicia@thesimpleswan.com

The Elegance of Signature Style

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Audrey Hepburn had a little black dress. Abraham Lincoln had a stovepipe hat. Ruth Bader Ginsburg had fancy robe collars. Harry Potter had glasses and a magic wand. 

What they all had in common was a distinct signature style. They were each well-known for other accomplishments, of course, but their sartorial choices added to their recognizability, uniqueness, and elegance.

Having a signature style means creating a consistent and memorable visual image or look. Whether that look is considered gorgeous or goofy may be in the eye of the beholder. The fact remains, what we wear matters.

In a 2012 report in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, a pair of scientists coined the phrase enclothed cognition and proved the clothing a person wears has an effect on the way one thinks, feels, and functions.

In one experiment, participants who were asked to wear a white doctor’s coat showed an increase in cognitive abilities. Similar experiments showed formal clothing enhanced the ability to negotiate and think abstractly. Casual clothing boosted openness and agreeableness. Gym clothes increased healthy choices. Bright colors improve mood, while softer colors had a calming effect.

What makes signature style so intriguing is that there’s no single definition, and it’s impossible to purchase no matter how much money one has. I have to admit, I’m really not one to give fashion advice. Although I’m still working on the how and what of personal style, I am convinced of these six reasons why we should cultivate a signature style.

  1. Self-Knowledge – Greek philosopher Epictetus said, “Know, first, who you are, and then adorn yourself accordingly.” Creating a true signature style requires knowing who we are, what we value, how we spend our time, and what we want to project into the world. This can be a lifelong challenge that requires some deep dives.
  2. Authenticity – Energy healer Carol Tuttle believes what we wear on the outside should be congruent with who we are on the inside. She teaches that everyone is born with a natural energy that should be honored. Are you naturally extroverted or introverted, loud or quiet, silly or serious? Be careful, she warns. Most of us hold false beliefs about who we are or should be. We can learn to dress in a way that celebrates our authenticity.
  3. Confidence – Committing to a signature style, impervious to trends and opinions, takes guts. Dressing every day in our own unique style will increase self-confidence and eventually garner the confidence of others. Audrey Hepburn said, “To pull off any look, wear it with confidence.”
  4. Simplicity – There’s no question that having a signature style makes life easier. Clothes shopping can be overwhelming and expensive. When we know exactly what we do and don’t wear, the entire process saves time and money. No more standing in front of a stuffed closet with nothing to wear. According to Coco Chanel, “Simplicity is the keynote of all true elegance.”
  5. Discipline – Staying true to a signature style requires discipline. It’s easy to question our wardrobe, especially when the choices are endless and ever-changing. The fashion industry banks on us being easily distracted, discouraged, and undisciplined. It takes laser focus to only purchase and wear that which we’ve determined perfectly expresses our personal style.
  6. Wisdom – Having a signature style is smart. Albert Einstein famously wore a grey suit, black tie, and white shirt. He said, “I don’t want to waste brainpower on what I’m going to wear each day.” Barack Obama, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg all followed suit. Saving time and money makes good sense, but so does taming our closets and consistently projecting an authentic image of ourselves.

Director Orson Welles said, “Create your own visual style. Let it be unique for yourself, yet identifiable for others.” It’s the big, gold charm bracelet my mother has worn for fifty years and the upswept hairdo her best friend has worn for as long as I can remember. Signature style is difficult to define and to cultivate, but it’s always the epitome of elegance. §

“Personal style is about a sense of yourself, a sense of what you believe in and wearing what you like.”
~ Ralph Lauren

The Elegance of Blooming Like an Amaryllis

When my children were very young, they became unexpectedly fascinated by the big red flowers that bloomed in pots at their grandparents’ Wisconsin home at Christmastime. Grandpa Bob, a crusty farmer and Marine, patiently explained how he forced the amaryllis bulbs to bloom as exquisite holiday decorations.

The next year, and for many years after, my children and their grandfather participated in a holiday tradition known as the Great Amaryllis Race. Shortly after Thanksgiving, they each opened a box containing a pre-planted amaryllis bulb, and the race was on!

I watched my children stare at their pots of dirt and whisper magic words, wishes, and prayers to urge the bulbs to sprout. Within a week or so, green pointy stems nudged out of the dirt, thrilling them to no end.

They carefully watered their plants, moved them to the perfect light, turned the pots to encourage the stalk to grow straight, and expertly used the thin stakes to keep them from falling over. Day by day, centimeter by centimeter, they watched their plants grow.

Throughout December, my children regularly called their grandparents from our home in Florida with their amaryllis report. “Grandpa,” my son excitedly said into the telephone, “mine is the tallest!” Holding a ruler, his older sister added, “But only by half an inch!”

Eventually the slender green stems reached more than a foot. By Christmas day, the buds at the top magically unfurled revealing two, three, or even more separate flowers that burst opened into the most elegant five-inch wide, scarlet blooms.

My kids always felt a little sorry for their grandpa who, for some reason, never won the contest. In fact, whose amaryllis grew the fastest, tallest, or with the most flowers became secondary to the miracle of watching a pot of dirt transform into something so beautiful.

There’s no greater joy than seeing children so excited about something so pure and wonderful. At a time of year when kids can become materialistic and self-centered, the Great Amaryllis Race taught my children important values including patience, care, faith, beauty, and simplicity.

The metaphors are too plentiful to do them justice, but aren’t we a little like that amaryllis bulb, so full of amazing potential? We must root ourselves in good soil, provide optimum growing conditions, prop ourselves up when we start to fall, and patiently wait until we fully bloom into the elegant creation we were meant to be.

“Be not afraid of growing slowly, be afraid only of standing still.”
~Chinese Proverb