Wisdom ~ a good intention and a good book

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At the end of 2021, I published a column about choosing a personal word as an intention for the new year.  My word for 2022 is wisdom. I was still 59 when I wrote, “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.”

Now that the year is more than half over, it’s time to assess how I’m doing with a lofty goal “to apply wisdom to everything I think, say, and do.” My best guess is that I’ve succeeded and failed in equal measure. I feel better after reading a quote by Lord Chesterfield, “In seeking wisdom thou art wise; in imagining that thou hast attained it, thou art a fool.”

I do recommend a book that has helped me move forward in my quest for wisdom. It’s called The Intellectual Devotional by David S. Kidder and Noah D. Oppenheim. It has lived on my nightstand all year and has a great subtitle, Revive Your Mind, Complete Your Education, and Roam Confidently with the Cultured Class.

This book offers 365 scholarly lessons from seven different fields of knowledge: history, literature, visual arts, science, music, philosophy, and religion. Here’s what I learned about last week:

Monday – The French Revolution
Tuesday – Moby-Dick
Wednesday – Joseph Mallord William Turner
Thursday – Stem Cells
Friday – Beethoven’s Symphony no. 9 Choral
Saturday – Social Contract
Sunday – Protestant Reformation

It’s amazing how often topics I read about in The Intellectual Devotional are referenced or related to things I encounter in my daily life. The book has definitely added to my knowledge base, piqued my curiosity, made me think, and encouraged me to be a lifelong learner.

We’re only half way in, but I’m glad I chose wisdom as my word for 2022. The year has so far brought unexpected sadness, disappointment, and confusion as well as plenty of happiness, hope, and clarity. A focus on wisdom has helped me accept it all with a little more perspective and elegance, though I know I still have a long way to go. §

“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”
~ Socrates

Featured Art ~ Lake Lucerne at Light with the Rigi, Joseph Mallord William Turner, 1841

Thank you for reading, my friend! Do you have a personal word for the year? How is it going? Please leave a comment and share your thoughts. Wishing you a day filled with simple elegance. I’ll be back on Sunday. Love, Alicia 

Be a Swan ~ this simple acronym can help

IMG_1996One day this week I had an ordinary opportunity to practice everyday elegance and remind myself to gracefully glide through life like a swan, not flap about like a chicken with its head cut off.

I was in the middle of cleaning our house when I realized I needed a couple of things from the store before getting on with a long to-do list for the day. I was tired, and the temperature outside was pushing 100 degrees. As I drove into the parking lot, a driver ran a stop sign forcing me to slam on my brakes. My purse flew off the seat, and its contents spilled on the floor.

As I began to pull into a parking spot, I had to swerve to avoid another driver going the wrong direction. My cell phone slid deep under the passenger’s seat. In the blistering heat of the concrete parking lot, I practically stood on my head while moving the seat forward and backwards trying to grab the phone that was just out of reach. By the time I retrieved it (ironically using an ice scraper from the glove compartment) I was hot and bothered.

Muttering to myself and ready to flap into the store feeling anything but graceful, I paused and remembered to be a swan. I walked around my car and got back in the driver’s seat. I started the ignition, turned the radio to classical music, and adjusted the air vents. For a couple of minutes, I sat still and let myself cool down.

Then I briefly closed my eyes, took a few deep breaths, and thought about the acronym I have used as a personal mantra for years. These four little words are a quick and easy way for me to quickly adjust my attitude and face the world with a modicum of elegance.

SWAN ~ Serene Wise Attractive Nice  

I’ve never written about this acronym for fear of revealing a silly little secret, but I’ve been thinking about how our personal lives, our relationships, and our communities could be improved if we all paid attention to those four simple words.

On this steamy afternoon filled with typical responsibilities and aggravations, I serenely strolled into the store. I was glad I’d wisely taken a few minutes to cool down and recenter myself. Wearing a casual denim dress, I felt reasonably attractive and thought about having good posture and a pleasant countenance. As my irritation melted away, I was more aware of simply being nice to fellow customers and store employees.

Serene. Wise. Attractive. Nice. Such an easy way to remember to be like a swan, gliding through an ordinary day with a little everyday elegance. §

“Grace will take you places hustling can’t.”
~ Elizabeth Gilbert

Featured Art ~ White Swan on White Lake by Melissa Pinner

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. §

The Elegance of a Spending Moratorium

I’m a stress shopper. I can go into the grocery store for a carton of eggs and come out with a tube of lipstick, a candle, deep conditioner, a magazine, mittens, and an avocado slicer. Depending on my state of mind, there’s a very good chance I’ll forget the eggs.

Since my word for 2022 is wisdom, being more intentional with money is a good place to start. On the first day of January, I spent a lot of time reflecting and planning for the new year. It was then I created a three-month personal spending moratorium. I read somewhere that when we want to do something differently, we need to know our why.

Here are some reasons why I want to get a grip on my personal spending habits:

  1. boost our savings account
  2. avoid clutter 
  3. practice self-discipline
  4. better manage stress 

So here’s my plan. January, February, and March of 2022 I will not buy:

  • clothing, jewelry, or accessories
  • make-up
  • skin-care or hair-care products
  • magazines
  • home decor

My strategy is an oldie but goodie – use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without. I’ve already faced several challenging scenarios. I’ll share a few with you in hopes you can relate, or at least won’t judge too harshly.

  1. I ordered a really cute jumpsuit from Chicos that didn’t arrive until after the new year. That doesn’t count, right? Did I mention it’s really cute? 
  2. Wouldn’t you know, I didn’t have the right shoes for said outfit. But…I had also ordered a dress from Macys. So when that dress arrived, I returned it and bought some shoes. Since the shoes cost less than the dress, I told Mike I was actually money ahead. He said they call that fuzzy math. Math was never my strongest subject.
  3. I thought we needed something for an empty wall in our living room. I convinced myself it would be smart to go ahead and buy the cool mirror I had my eye on while it was half off at Hobby Lobby. Filled with guilt, I nervously made my $48 purchase, sweating and shaking like I was buying crack on the corner. The next morning I returned my purchase and felt well on my way to rehabilitation.
  4. We were almost out of toilet paper. I walked into Wal-Mart without grabbing a shopping cart. I went directly to the back of the store and picked up a giant 24-pack of toilet paper with both hands. I couldn’t have carried anything else if I wanted to. That may have been the first time in my life I walked straight in and out of a big-box store and bought only one thing.

I’m three weeks into my three-month “no-buy” personal spending plan, and it has already proven to be an interesting challenge. I’m definitely more aware of my habits, urges, and triggers to spend money. Through the next three months, I’ll let you know how my spending moratorium is going. I’m not really sure what to expect, but I have a hunch it will add wisdom, simplicity, and elegance to my life. §

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 Signature Style

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

A television icon we will miss – Who is Alex Trebek?

Alex Trebek will be missed at our house. Since 1984, no matter what was going on in the news or our personal lives, we could count on him to lead us in a half hour of cerebral fun. For millions of people like us, who knew him only as a nightly game show host, Trebek was a reassuring and constant role-model of grace, wit, and wisdom.

Jeopardy was on the hospital room television when I was in labor with my first child. It was an easy delivery, and I had just enough pain meds to play along between pushes. I wish I could remember the final Jeopardy question on that July evening in 1990, but I do know my little girl arrived at 7:33 pm. The doctor, who was also a Jeopardy fan, remarked how considerate it was for her to wait until after the final question.

My daughter must have been blessed by Alex Trebek and sprinkled with some Jeopardy fairy dust as she was born, because she grew up with a real love of learning. Recently she and her husband, who are both attorneys, worked from our house for a couple of weeks during the pandemic. As we tuned-in to Jeopardy each evening, they consistently beat the pants off my husband and me.

Mike and I usually have great fun competing against each other for nightly Jeopardy bragging rights. I’d say we’re pretty evenly matched except when a sports or literary category gives one of us a clear advantage. My daughter and son-in-law left us silent, as they gave answer after answer before we could even process the question. For that reason alone, we were glad when they went back home.

Like most people, we knew of Trebek’s diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. We were glad to see him looking so well on the current taped shows and hoped he would get a miracle. In an interview last year, Trebek said, “I’m not afraid of dying. I’ve lived a good life, a full life, and I’m nearing the end of that life.” His comment is reminiscent of my father’s positive attitude while facing cancer.

When people we admire die, we are reminded our time on earth is finite, and every era must come to an end. We will all leave behind a legacy, and we will all be remembered for what we did, how we behaved, and how we made people feel. Trebek had a long career as a celebrity who managed to avoid scandal and embarrassing public fall from grace. I will truly miss seeing his genial face and elegant demeanor on our television each night.

We can all learn a few things from Alex Trebek. “My life has been a quest for knowledge and understanding, and I am nowhere near having achieved that,” he said. “And that doesn’t bother me in the least. I will die without having come up with the answers to many things in life.” 🙂

Question of the Week: Are you a Jeopardy fan? Do you have any personal memories of the show or of the host, Alex Trebek? Please respond in the comment section. I wish you a week filled with all the right answers!