Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Perfect Hat for When One Wants to Look Like a Rose Bush

     I still haven't found a hat to wear to the bridal shower that I am attending tomorrow.  This one pictured above won't do, even if it is reasonably priced.  It would look great though, if I ever wanted to dress in all green and attend a costume party dressed as a rose bush.
     Happy Halloween Weekend!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Etiquette and Funny Hats

What hat am I going to wear?! I can't think about that right now. If I do, I'll go crazy. I'll think about that tomorrow.
My daughter and I have received invitations to a bridal shower.  Invitations requesting that everyone arrive wearing a "funny hat" in the "spirit of Halloween" though I have found that "funny" is often determined by the eyes of the beholder.

Princess Beatrice with furry friend
My daughter is balking, and I am not exactly thrilled myself.  The outfit I planned to wear does not scream, "Hey!  A goofy looking  headdress would really complete this ensemble!" So my choices are to either buy said hat, or doctor one of my own hats to make it work.  

As I told my daughter, etiquette dictates that we at least make a sincere attempt to comply with the dress code request, even if it means feeling as though we look a bit odd.  We can always put the hats on prior to entering the home, then take them off after the bride-to-be, hostess and a few of the guests have seen us in the hats.  We do not have to let the hats ruin our day, nor ruin the bride-to-be's shower, as I have a hunch the funny hats were her idea in the first place. 

Demita Usher, my friend and frequent guest blogger, flew over to London for hat making classes a few years back, and I can see I will need her help.  I am considering a "Bergère hat" (French meaning "shepherdess"), as I have a few straw hats that might somehow be converted into the popular look.  Oh yes... and I am sure we can somehow make it look funny as well. 
Glenn Close in "Dangerous Liasons"... Scary!
Bergère hats were worn by the stylish throughout the 18th century.  Made of coiled straw, many featured a low crown, with a flat brim. The Bergère hat could be worn with the brim either turned down, or folded back. Wide ribbons were often attached to the sides.  Tied prettily into a bow under one's chin, the ribbons would keep many of the hats sitting upon heads securely. Flowers  and ostrich feathers adorned many brims of the hats, so I am thinking I can go "goofy" with whatever we add to mine. 

Keira Knightley portraying The Duchess of Devonshire
Though not ever as fashionable since their heyday, the very versatile hats have made brief comebacks, off and on for the past few hundred years, including the Edwardian Era. At that time, the hat was called a"Gainsborough hat" after Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire, had her portrait done by the celebrated artist.
Thomas Gainsborough's portrait of Lady Georgiana 

And while I am on the subject of the Duchess of Devonshire, I can tell my followers and readers that the next guest blog will be about the Duchess herself, the movie "The Duchess" and how history often is "photo-shopped" to suit the mood of the times.  

So stay tuned! Oh yes... and wear a funny hat in the spirit of Halloween.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Who Needs Halloween? Social Networking Sites... The New Frights

Halloween 1984

Who needs Halloween for tricks, treats & frights when we have Facebook and LinkedIn?  Worldwide, security breached, plagues of portals, for your past to come back to haunt you 365 days a year.  They suck more out of one's life than anything from Twilight or True Blood, and have more surprises at every turn than well crafted, amusement park haunted houses.  

They also, rather nonchalantly, heist email addresses from your computer with a simple question like, "Want to see if any of your contacts are also on (whatever site one is on)?"  One click and every person I have ever sold things to on Ebay, or whose email address was sent to me because only a small portion of the population seems to know what "Bcc" stands for, then pops up.  I closed my Facebook account 2 years ago, and just recently discovered LinkedIn had become just as intrusive.  

I was getting requests from people I may have exchanged one or two emails with, or parents whose kids I taught 10 years ago, and so on.  I only have my company name, phone number, etc... now, and I no longer accept invitations to connect with others.

I tried Facebook at the requests of friends, not realizing that the requests were from the portal itself, not really from my friends.  After signing up, I was bombarded daily with long lists of people that, yes I did know, but possibly didn't want to share anything other than a business connection.  I wondered, How did Facebook know I knew these people? I looked at the list and got it. Facebook pulled them from your email account, you big dumb bunny! 

With several email addresses, I knew why Facebook wanted to be in my email account and I was none too happy. However I figured that as I was finally connecting with some old friends who I rarely get to see, I would just ignore the pleas to add them as my Facebook friends. Common sense took a back seat for those few weeks.

I posted some photos, a little bit of a bio on myself, listed my favorite things... the usual nonsense.  About 2 weeks in to my Facebook foray, an old high school chum left a message on my Facebook wall.  It read, "Remember the time we went to the nude beach?"  Yes, I did remember we had stumbled on to a private beach in Laguna, back in the mid-seventies.  As we laid out our towels and got our tanning lotion on, we noticed that though we had our bikinis on, no one else at the sparsely populated beach was clothed. We had driven around for so long looking for a beach with no kids running around and screaming, we decided to stay, not to pay attention to anyone else, act natural (not au naturale) and work on our tans.  

Knowing that people Google my name to check my business out, I tried in vain for 3 days to get that remark off my wall.  What would parents or corporations looking to hire me make of it?  My past was haunting me.  Now I was a teen in the 1970s, and that one event was pretty tame, but after reading some of the delusional, misogynistic, destructive, bigoted, character assassinating comments people leave on websites, I didn't want anything more left on my wall to haunt me.  Real or imagined.  Again, I was a teen in the 1970s.  A crazy age in a crazy era, when .... well, let's just say I would rather forget a lot of the 1970s.  In fact, if I could, there are many parts of the 1980s I would like to claim amnesia on as well.  Even better, now I would like to forget Facebook.

There is a bigger, scarier bogeyman out there, besides social networking sites, in our world wide web.  Our younger generations are losing out on learning vital interpersonal skills.  Being more globally connected, sadly has affected social skills needed to navigate one's way through life. Awareness of posture, eye contact and observing non-verbal cues from others, is a skill that is being lost to our younger generations.  Family communication suffers as well.  I closed my Facebook account and am rarely on LinkedIn any longer.  If I ever do want to be haunted, I can just look through my old high school and junior high school yearbooks.  They are scary enough for me!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Who'd You Rather? The Cary or Cathy Dilemma

                   In Living Color 
                 Black and White?

Behind Door #1:
Imagine you are Cary Scott, a wealthy, forty-something widow, with two college age children. Now that your children have gone off to college, the last thing you would want to do is spend your evenings with the "widow's best friend", a television set.  It's an item you do not even own.  Your social calendar is full with activities, including getting together with your friends at the local country club, despite  occasional unsolicited advances of the tipsy husband of one of your friends.  As you are enjoying your life, you discover over the course of time a growing attraction between yourself and your hot, young gardener.  Your kids are encouraged that you have the attentions of an older distinguished gentleman, one that their late father would approve of as suitable replacement.  Sadly, though you find this gentleman's company enjoyable, and he is well established in your social circle, he has the sex drive of a cantaloupe. You find the company of the gardener and his social circle much more entertaining. Your friends get involved and try to discourage the relationship with the gardener. Your children accuse you of humiliating them, ruining their lives and try to convince you to end what they consider to be a foolish affair. What would you do?

Behind Door #2:
Imagine you are Cathy Whitaker, a married woman with a successful husband and two beautiful children. Your family held in such high esteem in your elite circle, that a glossy magazine features your brood as the ideal to aspire to. You are the hostess of some of the grandest parties in the community and are in the know with all the goings on in your wealthy affluent town. Unbeknownst to you, your husband is having "encounters" with random men he meets in bars and is prone to taking his dissatisfaction with his life out on you verbally, and on the rare occasions physically.  You also have a hot gardener that befriends you, he is a handsome African American man who treats you with kindness and compassion. You find yourself drawn to his attention like a moth to a flame. Your husband (who has already filed for a divorce from you to be with his lover) gets wind of your innocent interaction, gets angry and accuses you of ruining the family you built together your while your friends also express the same  disapproval of your platonic interaction with this man because he is black. How do you handle such a situation?

While you may be thinking these are pitches for a new television show or actual t.v story lines a'la desperate housewives, think again. Cary Scott is the main character in the 1956 social commentary film "All That Heaven Allows" so uncomfortable in its suggestion of an older woman and a younger man finding love, that it was not as well received in the U.S. as it was in Europe. A color film that one reviewer is quoted as saying "screams black and white and is really a film that I would have rather seen without color", watched present day is reminiscent of watching Father Knows Best reruns. The film suggested something so scandalous for its time, watching it in the present day, the fill still packs a wallop, as opposed to Cathy Whitaker's predicament in the 2002 film "Far From Heaven". The 2002 film set in 1957 Connecticut does not offer the same emotional shock to the system that "All That Heaven Allows" does, due to the fact that by 2002, interracial relationships and homosexuality are more part of the norm.

While both movies are similar as far as story line goes, the common thread that really connects them is how the strength of the era's acceptable social norms affect the life-altering decisions of these two women. The pressures of meddling children, or well meaning close friends and associates, tempt the women to forsake relationships with men they deeply care about. The irony of such loyalty to “proper conduct” and the “acceptable” behavior of the time emulated by the people that surround them is that there seems to be a blind side to this dedication. The social set that disapproved the of the behavior between Cathy and her gardener (which was platonic, yet evolving) were completely tolerant of her husband’s sexual trysts with a man and his abuse of her behind closed doors. They seem to accept his peccadilloes, with the attitude that they "went with the territory" of being in such high social standing. 

With Cary, it seems that her children were more content for her to be alone and comforted by the companionship of a television set, than allowing her to enjoy the affections of a younger man that truly loved her. They emotionally blackmailed her into isolation using the social norms of the time to keep her in her so-called place. The glue they kept her bound to a lonely existence with, is  citing ridicule of their own social standing  because of her involvement with a younger man who was supposedly socially inferior, as well.

Both movies, "All That Heaven Allows" and "Far From Heaven" are recommended as beautifully watchable, well made vehicles, that give a glimpse into the lives of 1950's America's mannerisms, etiquette, and a reminder of how much women's lives have changed since then and men's lives as well, for that matter.

*Memo from Maura-  Look for the most unintentionally hysterical verbal exchange ever on film with Rock Hudson and Jane Wyman, regarding whether he'd like her to be more like a man. A real gem of a joke that the Hollywood crowd had to have been in on. How did they keep straight faces during filming of that scene?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

What I Did on My Summer Staycation, Part 1 and Why Demita Usher Will be Guest Blogging

A week or so ago, some of you noticed that Demita Usher, a "guest blogger" was announced on my blog.  To those of you who asked; Yes, I am still recovering. and No, I am still not throwing in the towel on my health just yet. Do let me explain...

Many of you know I have had a challenging summer that has continued on into fall. Each of the past few years has been a doozy, however this past summer was particularly strange (hosting a birthday party and having to go to bed just as the guests were arriving? Yes, that was a fun evening! Missed the whole party. The next day I heard everyone had a great time though, and I didn't wind up in the ER.) All that being said, this past summer was particularly wonderful too! That is what I am going to focus on.  In three parts.  Let Part One begin...
Demita Usher of Demita's School of Social Graces and Savoir Faire

It all actually started one evening in late May. Most everyone had left from a family birthday dinner for my son when my phone rang. We were all settling in to watch a movie downstairs, but I took the call upstairs, saying I'd only be on the phone a few minutes.  

Three hours later, (yes three!) I came back downstairs. The first thing my son said was, "Mom... You were on the phone for three hours!" I agreed, yes, I certainly had been. Then I went on to tell him that I had just had an incredible conversation with someone exactly like me. "She thinks exactly like me! It was so strange to talk with someone and feel an instant connection. We could finish each others' sentences." Cliff asked if she was an etiquette instructor. I told him no, that she wasn't, but wants to be and that she had acquired an amazing collection of etiquette books over the years and even had the Wendy Ward Charm School record albums! I didn't even know they had made albums! My big sister only had the book. I was impressed.

Training and getting to know Demita has been an incredible delight. She is like the identical twin sister I never had, if that identical twin sister was 3 inches taller, black and about 16 years younger than me. Oh yes, and if my twin was engaged to be married and moving to Europe next year, which grieves me to no end. Friends who have moved only one or two states away are hard enough to see, but another continent? I am guessing we will have to curtail the 3 hour phone conversations.

For weeks we have been having one or two marathon 14 hour days together, during which we work, discuss etiquette, discuss history, she picks my brain and I make suggestions on films and books, etc...  She has been with me on doctor appointments, medication runs, physical therapy appointments, helps me with grocery shopping, etc... We eat, watch movies and t.v. shows pertinent to etiquette (yes... there was that one Grey's Anatomy episode that I slipped in, but she enjoyed it just the same). We did go to see "The Help", the first movie I had seen in a theater in four years. I had been wanting her to meet my daughter, and as she is here so little of the time lately, I jumped at the opportunity to put the three of us together when my daughter had the odd afternoon off.

After a long discussion of the movie, and with Demita so understanding of my health situation, along with wanting to immerse herself in etiquette and the whole surrounding culture as much as possible, I asked and she agreed to guest blog on all of the movies, books and other reading material I have been recommending. The first movie and book Demita thought of covering was "The Help"

And while I am on the subject please allow me to thank Monica, the substitute teacher I met by chance at Gebhart International, who offered me her hard copy of the book as I had not yet read it.  Said she cheerfully, "I have the book in my car and was going to drop it off as a donation somewhere. Would you like it?  It is really good." So many, many thanks to Monica!

But it was the discussion of another movie that Demita asked me about which led to her first review, comparing two different films portraying similar social issues and the pressures that social forces and "the accepted norm" place on women and men in society. I will be posting her review tomorrow. In the meantime, you can enjoy Demita's humor regarding something from Emily Post's first book. 

She has a copy, as do I, of the well-known blue book on etiquette. She hadn't read a lot of it though, which started a discussion of my favorite authors on etiquette (Amy Vanderbilt and Letitia Baldridge... the real stuff, not the revised-by-someone-else stuff) and I shared with her one of the many funny bits I had found in Emily's well known work.  This line nearly always bring me to tears with laughter. In a section on dinner table etiquette, Emily in her first book gave this admonishment, "Saucers for vegetables are contrary to all etiquette." "Huh?!?", was my first response upon reading the missive. Seriously?  Saucers for vegetables are contrary to all etiquette? That makes no sense whatsoever.

I can see if one is hosting a dinner party, that throwing food at one's guests would be contrary to all etiquette. Or insulting one's guests would be contrary to all etiquette.  In fact, I can think of at least a hundred and one other things that would be "contrary to all etiquette." Dishes for the vegetables don't come to mind as being something so heinous. Demita sent me this later that evening when she had gotten home-
"Saucers for vegetables are contrary to all things etiquette." I can see it now...........
Circa 1920's
Mrs. Noseintheair: Did you hear about the Kelly's girl? 
Mrs. Oneupmanship: No! What happened? 
Mrs. Noseintheair: Her mother served vegetables on saucers now no man will court her much less marry her.
Mrs. Oneupmanship: Heavens to Betsy! I hope it passes, otherwise future generations will never live it down.
Present Day 
Muffy: OMG did you hear about Tiffany?
Binky: Nooooo! What happend?
Muffy: Her dad tried to join the local country club but they denied him admission, something about his great grandmother and some vegetable saucers or something.
Binky: The nerve of SOME people. Well thank God they caught him before our good clubs name was ruined. By the way does this thong bikini make my behind look big? I don't want to look like a tramp sitting by the pool at the club. 
I loved it! I believe you will enjoy her guest blogging.

Next up... Part Two, with training my first instructor to teach etiquette in Saudi Arabia, the charming Rola Yassine.
Maura Graber & Rola Yassine