“How to be a Lady” ~ a book review

IMG_1664This week I brought home a new book titled How To Be A Lady by Candace Simpson-Giles. It is the third revision of a book I admittedly bought in 2001 and again in 2012, as I am fascinated with etiquette in an ever-changing world. The book is chock-full of contemporary advice on common courtesy.

Although you’ll want to read this reference-style book for yourself, I thought I’d summarize three tips from each of its ten chapters. I know I always benefit from a refresher course on minding my manners. I would add that all of these tips could equally apply to being a gentleman.

Chapter One ~ A Lady Experiences Real Life
1. A lady is always on her toes; she realizes that every encounter makes a lasting impression.
2. A lady knows when to turn off her phone.
3. A lady never eats behind the wheel of a car.

Chapter Two ~ A Lady Gets Dressed
1. A lady is mindful of her appearance at all times.
2. A lady knows her posture is as important as her clothing.
3. A lady knows what colors, fabrics, and patterns flatter her.

Chapter Three ~ A Lady Goes to Dinner
1. A lady knows when it’s acceptable to drink from a straw. (My savvy mother-in-law taught me never to sip a cocktail through that little plastic stirrer!)
2. A lady doesn’t place her dirty napkin back on the table until leaving the restaurant; she places it on her chair if she leaves the table during the meal.
3. A lady does not engage in a debate over politics, religion, or other sensitive issues at the dinner table. 

Chapter Four ~ A Lady Says the Right Thing
1. A lady never curses in front of others.
2. A lady does not laugh at racist, sexist, or homophobic jokes.
3. A lady thinks before she speaks.

Chapter Five ~ A Lady Gives a Party
1. A lady is happy to use her best things. If something accidentally breaks, she is not disturbed and does not allow her guests to feel any guilt over the matter.
2. If a lady receives a bottle of wine as a hostess gift, she is not obligated to serve it that evening. Hostess gifts do not need to be opened during the party.
3. When hosting, a lady reserves the least desirable seat for herself.

Chapter Six ~ A Lady Goes to a Party
1. A lady knows what “RSVP” means and always responds to invitations bearing that request.
2. A lady never spends all of her time talking to one person. She is excited to meet as many people as possible and assumes that people will enjoy meeting her, too.
3. A lady knows when it’s time to say goodnight.

Chapter Seven – A Lady and Her Friends
1. A lady never says or does things that make her friends feel small.
2. A lady never hesitates to dispel false rumors about her friends.
3. A lady knows providing an ear to listen or a shoulder to cry on is one of the greatest gifts she can give her friend.

Chapter Eight ~ A Lady Goes to the Office
1. A lady always shows respect, not only for her superiors, but also to those who work with and for her.
2. A lady carefully considers what she writes in an email or on social media before hitting send or post.
3. A lady realizes the more professionally she presents herself in the workplace, the more seriously she will be taken.

Chapter Nine ~ A Lady Takes Care of Herself
1. A lady sees her doctors on a regular basis.
2. A lady is cautious not to put herself in harmful situations that could endanger her safety or compromise her own personal value system for living.
3. A lady realizes a tan is not worth the risk of skin cancer.

Chapter Ten ~ Extreme Etiquette
1. A lady never gushes over a celebrity nor asks for an autograph unless that is the celebrity’s function at the event.
2. A lady addresses the president as Mr. (or Madame) President.
3. If a lady is a citizen of the United States and has the opportunity to meet royalty, she does not curtsey, no matter how tempted she is to do so. §

“A lady knows that beauty and wealth can be fleeting, but her inner character is the measure by which others will ultimately judge her as a person.”
~ Candace Simpson-Giles, Author

The Elegance of Birth Month Flowers

IMG_1619I was a little girl in my grandmother’s backyard on a sunny May afternoon when I spotted a thick patch of tiny, white bell-shaped flowers. As if it was a secret, Grandma whispered, “They are called lily of the valley, and they are your own special flower because your birthday is in May!” I’m sure I smiled ear-to-ear believing this flower bloomed for me and me alone. I immediately felt a connection to the delicate little flower that smelled so sweet and seemed the perfect size for a fairy’s house.

Since that day, I’ve been in love with my birth month flower. I was thrilled last May when a sizable patch of lily of the valley bloomed along the side of the house we had moved into a few months before. This spring was no different, although the patch has gotten noticeably bigger. Recognizing how much I adore this little flower, my husband made me a pretty stained glass lily of the valley for my birthday that now hangs in our kitchen window.

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According to the book The Language of Flowers by Odessa Begay, lily of the valley was a favorite of French fashion designer Christian Dior. He designed his personal stationery with the flower and even stitched lily of the valley on the inside of linings and hems. For good luck, he always made sure at least one model in every fashion show was wearing a little bunch of the flower. In 1956, Dior released his fragrance Diorissimo featuring the notes of lily of the valley. That same year Grace Kelly carried a small bouquet of lily of the valley when she wed Prince Rainier of Monaco.

One of my favorite writers, Paul Lawrence Dunbar, wrote a beautiful poem titled The Lily of the Valley in 1913. The first stanza reads ~

Sweetest of the flowers a-blooming
In the fragrant vernal days
Is the Lily of the Valley
With its soft, retiring ways

Some may find sentimentality about flowers old-fashioned and frivolous, but I would disagree. In contrast to the coarseness of the world, flowers bring joy, and their history offers hope that despite whatever comes our way, they will keep enchanting us.

What do you know about your birth month flower? Here’s a simple guide to get you started, including what each flower can symbolize. I encourage you to explore the meaning and history of your birthday flower and feel just a little bit special believing it exists just for you.

Birth Month Flowers Through the Year:

January ~ Carnation  admiration, love, luck
February ~ Violet  modesty, faithfulness, wisdom
March ~ Daffodil  new beginnings, happiness, prosperity
April ~ Daisy purity, transformation, innocence
May ~ Lily of the Valley honor, purity, bliss
June ~ Rose happiness, romance, love
July ~ Delphinium grace, positivity, joy
August ~ Gladiolus passion, strength, integrity
September ~ Aster love, patience, magic
October ~ Marigold creativity, peace, warmth
November ~ Chrysanthemum compassion, friendship, joy
December ~ Narcissus hope, wealth, protection §

“Like the lily of the valley in her honesty and worth
Ah, she blooms in truth and virtue
in the quiet nooks of earth.”
~ Paul Lawrence Dunbar

Poetry for Ukraine ~ The Mirror

Mirror-Free-Download-PNGThe Mirror

The mirror has two faces
Look closely, you will see
One is vain and greedy
The other just wants peace

One is the aggressor
The bully and the cheat
One stands up for righteousness
And won’t accept defeat

Don’t question his resistance
Or the loyalty of his friends
There is strength in numbers
There’ll be justice in the end

History keeps showing us
Reflections of these faces
Nothing ever seems to change
Just the names and places

Far away there are two men
Who represent us all
Everyday’s a battle
The evil one will fall

By Alicia Woodward §

“Behavior is the mirror in which everyone shows their image.”
~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Read Alicia’s previous poems for Ukraine:
“With the Strength of Snowdrops” https://thesimpleswan.wordpress.com/2022/03/02
“War Can Turn to Peace”  https://thesimpleswan.wordpress.com/2022/03/09
“Innocence” https://thesimpleswan.wordpress.com/2022/03/16
“An Elegant Response to War” https://thesimpleswan.wordpress.com/2022/03/23
“The Sky” https://thesimpleswan.wordpress.com/2022/03/30
“Mourning Dove” https://thesimpleswan.wordpress.com/2022/04/06

The Elegance of Steel Magnolias

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On this first Mother’s Day since our mom’s passing, my sisters and I will spend the day recalling happy memories, many of which were firmly planted on a little street named for the magnolia tree that graced our childhood neighborhood. It was on Magnolia Avenue that we first learned valuable lessons from our mother and other beautiful women who were part of our lives.

That magnolia tree holds a nearly mythical place in our hearts. Every year, we waited for it to announce spring’s arrival by bursting into a profusion of big pink and white blossoms and spritzing the whole neighborhood with its sweet perfume. Six decades later, the tree is still there in all its glory. Rooted at its base are the lessons of our youth.

Our tree is a saucer magnolia, commonly known as a tulip tree. In fact, there are more than 200 species of magnolias. They gracefully adapt to change and can live up to 300 years. The magnolia’s carpels are extremely strong and durable. A carpel, by the way, is the female part of the flower. Not only are these trees the essence of delicate beauty, they are also tough, hence the term steel magnolias. Lessons from our own steel magnolias include grace, dignity, wisdom, and strength.

A beautiful magnolia tree exemplifies grace. In people, grace can be defined as simple elegance, refined movement, and courteous goodwill. The women of our childhood spoke, dressed, moved, and acted with a natural, simple grace. More importantly, they treated others politely and kindly.

Growing up, we loved to climb trees, but it occurs to me now that we never climbed the magnolia. In hindsight, I suppose we respected it the way we respected the women in our lives. They garnered deference by presenting themselves in an honorable manner. These days, virtue can seem under-valued, but the steel magnolias taught us dignity.

They also instructed us in wisdom. A magnolia tree innately knows when and how to grow, bloom, and rest. Our mother and other women we knew not only ran households, but also managed companies, classrooms, and committees. Perhaps its woman’s intuition or sage wisdom, but they were smart chicks who never played dumb.

Finally, a steel magnolia is an admirable combination of femininity and fortitude.  Call her brave, plucky, resilient, intrepid, or one tough cookie, she has the strength of mind and spirit to endure adversity with courage. As hairdresser Annelle Dupuy Desoto resolutely says in the play Steel Magnolias, “I promise that my personal tragedy will not interfere with my ability to do good hair!”

Although our mother is no longer with us, my sisters and I celebrate her today. We remember the important lessons she taught us, and we are grateful to all of the women who impacted our young lives. As the years go by, we hope to keep blooming and growing and to pass on to the next generations the strength and elegance of steel magnolias. §

Birthday Plans Gone Awry

IMG_1561Today is my 60th birthday! Mike and I have been planning my birthday week for a couple of months. On Monday, I would treat myself to a haircut and a massage. On Tuesday, we’d have dinner with family. On the big day, we would drive to St. Louis where we had hotel and dinner reservations at the Chase Park Plaza and tickets to see Hamilton at The Fox Theatre. The next day would be our annual springtime visit to the Missouri Botanical Gardens, The Butterfly House, and the St. Louis Art Museum in Forest Park. And there would be cake! And champagne!

Instead of enjoying these wonderful plans, I’m spending my birthday in the hospital where I’ve been since Sunday with an acute viral intestinal infection. I’ve been on a clear liquid diet of water and orange jello. (I am finally feeling a bit better and well enough to gather a few thoughts for this post today, although it’s later than usual.)

We know what they say about best laid plans. In his 1785 poem To a Mouse, Robert Burns wrote something like, “The best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry and leave us not but grief and pain for promised joy!” (Burns actually uses fancier Old English words but thou get’st thy drift.) The theme of the poem is the unpredictability of life.

Burns empathizes with a wee mouse and we little humans as well. He knows it’s in our nature to constantly make plans, but he believes we must understand many of our schemes and dreams won’t pan out. Burns’ advice is to face life’s unpredictability with wisdom and compassion.

So as I sit in the hospital feeling sorry for myself, I’m also trying to be aware of the compassion extended to me during my 60th birthday trip to Good Samaritan Hospital. I look around and see evidence of friends and family who love me, nurses and doctors who are caring for me, a sweet bouquet of flowers Mike brought me.

About 200 years after Burns wrote his poem, John Lennon’s song Beautiful Boy included this line, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” Long before those wise words were penned, Proverbs 16:9 said, “A man’s heart plans his way: but the Lord directs his steps.”

I may be 60 now, but spending it in a hospital is a reminder (and maybe even a gift) that I still have a lot to learn. And re-learn. Over and over. Right now, I’m doing the most human thing possible ~ making plans to do everything on my birthday list as soon as I feel better. §

The Elegance of a Memorable Teacher

IMG_1327An injured butterfly gently rested in my cupped hands. Looking closely, I admired the symmetrical patterns painted in sleek black on bright yellow wings. The scalloped hindwings were decorated with a royal blue art-deco design and the slightest touch of orange. She was a work of art.

I could easily identify it as a female eastern tiger swallowtail, or Papilio glaucus, thanks to my tenth grade biology teacher, Mrs. Shaw. In hindsight, she was one of the most talented and truly elegant teachers I ever had. She helped me see the beauty and artistry in science. This was no small task as I typically enjoyed more creative, right-brained pursuits.

Always dressed in a white lab coat, Mrs. Shaw taught bell-to-bell with no idle chit-chat or wasted time. Using colored chalk, she drew intricate diagrams of cells, or whatever we were learning at the time, which we would replicate and study in our own notebooks.

Even in college, it was rare to have a professor with Mrs. Shaw’s combination of knowledge, passion, and teaching skills. When I became a teacher myself, I borrowed many of her techniques for running an effective and efficient classroom. She was smart and kind, poised and mature, making her a role model for all students, especially impressionable young women.

Students in Mrs. Shaw’s biology class completed two main projects ~ an insect display in the fall and a wildflower display in the spring. Picking wildflowers was right up my alley, but the bugs were another story. I wasn’t afraid of them, but I didn’t want to kill them.

Mrs. Shaw gave a compelling explanation why the project was crucial for our education and that was that. Armed with a bug net and glass jars containing cotton-balls soaked with rubbing alcohol, I scoured our yard, nearby woods, and roadsides for a month in search of insects native to southern Illinois.

I set up my entomology lab on my dad’s workbench in the garage. After collecting an insect, I carefully placed it in the jar. I added my own step of saying a prayer of gratitude to each bug for sacrificing its life for my GPA. Next, I methodically mounted the insects with pins onto the foam board our teacher provided. The most important step was properly identifying each specimen by its common name, scientific name, and category.

More than four decades later, I can’t help but remember that experience when I encounter a cute ladybug (Harmonia axyridis), an exquisite praying mantis (Stagmomantis carolina), or a beautiful monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus).

I placed the swallowtail on a flowering bush, hoping her injured leg didn’t prove to be fatal. I bent down to say some encouraging words, and she began to move a bit. “You can do it,” I whispered as she fluttered off the bush in a graceful loop.

National Teachers’ Day is May 3. The past two years, especially, have shown us how crucial schools and educators are to our society. The lessons from our best teachers stay with us for a lifetime. As Aristotle said, “Those who know, do. Those who understand, teach.” §