Reader request: having a gentle and quiet spirit

              Today I am addressing a question from one of my readers, Theresa, on how to conduct oneself as a “quiet and gentle spirit.” The phrase “quiet and gentle spirit” is taken from I Peter 3, an epistle from one of Jesus’s disciples turned apostle, Peter, to the early Christians. It is important to look at context when defining a biblical phrase, so I’ve included verses 1-6 below:

              “Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear—but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening” (I Peter 3:1-6, ESV). [emphasis mine]

              So we can see from the passage above that the admonishment for a woman to have a gentle and quiet spirit is in the context of a wife interacting with her husband. Beyond a blanket mandate that a woman submit to her husband, Peter is advising Christian women on how they can influence their unbelieving husbands to become followers of Christ. He wisely puts emphasis on her heart attitude rather than external moves to convince her husband of the change God has made in her life. He is not advising against a woman’s wearing hair braids, precious metals/jewelry, or certain clothing, as I have heard this passage preached out of context, but instead he is giving those particular examples as what she should not do in an attempt to convince her husband to become a Christian as she is. Truly, I have heard of women who became believers and used their newfound faith to bring about many external changes into their lives, often dragging unwilling and confused husbands alongside them. Though following Jesus does bring noticeable differences in one’s lifestyle, Peter is reminding women here that converting their husbands cannot and should not be done through external lifestyle changes, either hers or her attempts to change him.

              Perhaps you already knew the context of your phrase in the question, Theresa, but I’m sharing it for the benefit of all the readers. Also, I don’t know most of my readers’ experience regarding the “one believing spouse, one unbelieving spouse” situation. Some of what I have heard is from preaching and most is anecdotal (not personal). But it seems in my experience the most common thing for a believing wife to do is to annoy, badger, insult, or attempt to force her husband to participate in her religious practices with her, sometimes very “sweetly” and “nicely.” And usually she has what I’m sure are the sincerest intentions, but in the end she does not abide by the Scripture’s instruction to be a character example and instead relies on taking actions to evoke change. And it nearly always leads to resent and conflict, from what I’ve heard.

              So how does a Christian wife influence her unbelieving husband to possibly win him to Christ? According to the apostle Peter, by “be[ing] subject to [their] husbands,” having “respectful and pure conduct,” and adorning her “heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit.” That’s it. No nagging him or telling him everything he’s doing wrong, no making comments about how much better she is. No shaming him for not attending church with her. No arguing about how to raise the kids. Even if he was to hand down a mandate that she absolutely could not speak of her religious faith in the house or in front of the children at all, which I have never heard of actually happening, there are ways to display the goodness (and God-ness) in her heart by her behavior. So this actually gets to the crux of your question, Theresa: ways a woman can display that gentle and quiet spirit.

              The spirit shines through in all of one’s interactions so having a quiet and gentle spirit will influence every aspect of behavior from speech to body language to facial expression. It manifests itself in a sweet smile, a soft touch, respectful eye contact, straight posture, quiet and unhurried breathing, flowing movements. It is as if a river of tranquility flows through her body. The quiet and gentle spirited woman will not humph or grump, roll eyes, speak sharply or shrilly, handle roughly, slump over or breathe heavily. More importantly, she will not treat her husband harshly or unkindly. She will not pick a fight nor return antagonistic behavior. She will respect his opinions and viewpoints, showing kindness indiscriminately. And I truly believe that such strong character may indeed make a difference for Christ where forced church attendance may not.

              On a side note, dear readers, if any of you are of the Christian faith or any other faith and are considering marriage, I strongly advise you to pick someone of your own faith if you think it will be an issue for you to have an unbelieving spouse. I had this friend in high school with whom I have lost contact. She was raised Christian but lived according to society’s normal standards for awhile. She lived with a man and then married him, but after two years they got divorced. The last time I saw her the divorce came up and I expressed sadness for her. She replied, “Oh, K. wasn’t a Christian, and I kept asking and asking him to become one, but after two years he didn’t, so I divorced him.” It left me flabbergasted! Truly, if my friend had felt that differences in faith might ever become an issue in their married life, she should not have ever entered the marriage in the first place. I believe that Peter’s passage is likely speaking to women in marriages where both were originally unbelievers and the women became Christians after they were married. So that’s different than willingly entering an interfaith marriage. Another anecdote: I had an acquaintance from church when I was a teenager, a Christian woman who fell in love with a Muslim man. He assured her that the differences in faith would be no issue and treated her with the utmost respect and love before marriage, but as soon as they were married he began abusing her (emotionally and mentally) and refused to consummate the marriage and allow her to have children until she converted to Islam. After two years of hell she was finally able to divorce and escape the situation. I am not trying to be judgmental; if you’re in a respectful interfaith marriage I applaud you and I do not like to ever give opinions on whether anyone should divorce. But again, if you are unmarried and you feel strongly about your faith I would encourage you to talk to a potential spouse about it before marrying. It may save you both, and any future children, a lot of heartache.

              Thank you for your question, Theresa, and thank you for reading the well bred woman in progress!

Refined speech

              One of the hallmarks of a well bred woman is her refined speech. It is one of the foremost identifiers of a woman’s character as even the slightest interaction with someone usually involves talking. I am developing certain habits of speech that I believe contribute to my goal of becoming a well bred woman. Please note that I don’t speak a certain way because I think I’m better than another. I have heard since childhood that I must think I’m better than other people because of this way or that way that I acted. And it is true that I was once more judgmental than I hope I am now. However, I’ve trained myself to stop assuming what others are thinking, and I appreciate the same in turn. The following examples of how I pursue refined speech may be taken as inspiration or confirmation for your own journey as a well bred woman in progress.

              Let’s begin with what refined speech is not: it isn’t a list of little known “fancy” words that you should add to your vocabulary to appear more sophisticated. In the South, we referred to such a fake show as being high-falutin’ (high fuh-LOO-tin’), and truthfully, adding more high-falutin’ words to your vocabulary doesn’t do much more than make you look, well, high-falutin’. Truly refined speech focuses on tactful subtractions and substitutions in one’s words.

              The first category I subtract from my speech is vulgarity, include all words having to do with cursing, swearing, coarseness, or so-called nice or Christian curse words. I am not going to type them here but a quick google search of “Christian curse words” covers the gamut of what I don’t feel comfortable saying (if you must know!).

              This is the part where I feel like it’s hard not to cross into “I’m better than you” territory. All I’m trying to say is that you just don’t have to curse or swear. When I was in college I picked up many bad habits including using curse words. When I got back home around my church and family, I found myself biting my tongue a lot, not realizing how pervasive my little slips had become. When I got married I quit the vulgarity cold turkey, and although I have occasionally allowed myself to speak inappropriately over the last 9 years, I know I don’t have to. I never had to. I always had the tools, as does every woman, to express myself without stooping to vulgarity. There is strength, albeit a quiet one, in having consistent morals that one abides by, even in the circumstances that everyone else would be cursing in. That reminds me of my first natural childbirth eight years ago. My midwife was coaching me through the last painful pushes and she kept telling me how well I was doing. (I was terrified!) She said, “Most people would be swearing by now” and I answered “But–I–don’t–swear!!” And she said, “Well, most people who don’t swear would be swearing by now!”

              If you are unwilling to give up strong language, perhaps you feel you would be defenseless or powerless without your strong words. In my experience women who tend to use vulgarity sparsely but in extreme circumstances do so in the effort to react to the most extreme situation with equal extremity. However, this is still vulgarity, and although many people do appreciate your not sprinkling your speech with the “f” word like rain in a spring garden, when you do say it, you still said it. You went there, and you used harsh, unrefined speech. I feel sad for women who feel like they have to pull out the occasional curse word to really make a point. You don’t. The people who respect you and take your words seriously will respect your refined speech and your restraint in strongly expressing yourself–and there are plenty of creative ways to make a point that don’t involve four letter words and offensive epitaphs.

              Another category I completely avoid are euphemisms for God and Jesus. A euphemism is a more pleasant way of wording a harsher word or phrase, for example saying “passed away” instead of “died.” But in the case of saying God’s name carelessly, any lesser form (“g-sh,” “gee,” etc.) aren’t okay with me. This traces back to my firm Christian upbringing in childhood, but as an adult I still agree with the mindset behind this speech standard.

              Another area I desire to limit is the use of slang words. Of course I can’t think of any examples right now! I use some slang such as “mom,” “dad,” and “kids,” but most often I try to use standard words rather than substandard words. This is the area I think I need the most work in currently.

              Additionally, I am learning to avoid remarks that malign people groups, that is, ethnic groups or religions. Unfortunately growing up in the South I learned some phrases used by people close to me that I didn’t realize were racist at the time. I am not talking about offensive words for people groups (not giving examples) but rather phrases that ended up being racist due to the judgmental, haughty, narrow mindset behind them. For example: “(skin color) neighborhood”; “all (country of origin) are illegals”; “what did you expect from a _(skin color)_ person?” One needn’t look far on the web these days to find oneself criticized by those on the anti-racist bandwagon, and that’s a good thing. Racism needs to be eradicated forever in the US, and it starts with each individual’s speech and actions including mine. As a young child without much exposure to the world and living in an area of predominately one skin color, I honestly believed my authority figures when they made general statements about people’s religious practices or ethnic groups. While thinking critically about other people’s religion is fine, as it’s a personal choice that should involve mental exertion as well as moral justification, general presuppositions based on fear and rumor are not fine. And who can choose which family they were born into? Judging someone for that makes the least sense of all. I began realizing in college that people are just people. What distinguishes us is our character; it’s all we have, and it’s the thing that is most under our control if we choose to control it.

              Besides subtracting the categories of vulgarity, using God’s name in vain, slang, and maligning speech, I am learning to make substitutions in my quest for refined speech. The first area I have really focused on since having children is substituting kindness for callousness or carelessness. We say so much. We give directions, answer questions, place an order, explain ourselves. We have to ask questions and seek directions or explanations. And all of those times that we speak, there are often times that our phrasing, by taking care, can come out kindly instead of unkindly or just plain carelessly. Situations in which to be especially mindful include taking care not to tell someone else how to do their job, taking care not to assume one knows how someone else feels, taking care to offer appreciation for others’ actions and respect for others’ positions, and taking care not to bring up topics one knows are painful for the listener, such as the loss of a child, or an excessive focus on one’s own happiness in an area where the listener has experienced loss.

              The other category I am attempting to substitute is restraint for wordiness. Wordy: using or containing many and usually too many words. Perhaps my readers are chuckling now; my blog posts are usually very long and wordy. But, to paraphrase Anne of Green Gables, if you only knew how many words I edited out of my 2nd and 3rd readings before publishing, you’d give me some credit! I have also had several people over the years, including my husband, reprimand me for talking too much. I am starting to see that truly, people do take you more seriously when you speak less because that gives your words more value. As a caveat, the reason my blog posts are long is that my goal is to over-analyze topics that I find interesting. I realize that the post lengths limit the amount of readership I will likely achieve, but gaining readers isn’t the goal of this blog. Still, I edit for clarity.

              So what about women who don’t practice any or all of the above characteristics of refined speech? Should we stop our ears and shun them? If you’re thinking that’s what I’m thinking, then maybe this is the first post you’ve read on this blog. I hope to have made it clear over the last few years that I hate judging and am not trying to. I also don’t mean to be condescending. A woman may not possess refined speech simply because she doesn’t know better, or she may have never thought how her speech sounds to other people or affects their perception of her (which perception isn’t ours to control, yet…it still happens). Saying a curse word or choosing carelessness over kindness doesn’t indicate a completely bad character. I believe that refined speech comes from an inward gracious, positive character. So for the woman who may speak roughly out of ignorance or inattentiveness, but who has a good heart and seeks good character, I hope the above examples of ways to pursue refinement in one’s speech may help her in her goal. I know I’ve mentioned it in other posts here, but the best transition from an average woman to a well bred woman is from the inside out, not the outside in. Start with pursuit of good character, such as love, courage, and kindness, and refined speech may follow if you wish it!

Making announcements to friends and family

              Something good happened to you but your friend is having a rough time.  Maybe you’re engaged, getting married, having a baby, getting a new job.  Whom should you tell?  I have read many opinions on how to classify people as friends, family, acquaintances, etc., and the protocols of communicating what with whom, when, and how.  Here are my thoughts on the matter.
              First of all, I believe each woman has a good idea of how well she knows others.  Any given person that she considers herself acquainted with should fit easily into a category of communication, personal closeness, etc.  If it isn’t clear, or if there is a lot of drama, conflicting allegiances, or constantly changing friendship protocols, it may be a toxic relationship.  Whom a woman is close to varies among each of us.   A stereotypical woman might be very close to her mother, best friends with her sisters, have college mates she still keeps in touch with, not be so chatty with the grocery store cashier, etc.  But no one fits a stereotype exactly and the first thing to remember when trying to figure out how one should interact with others is to let go of expectations.  For whatever reason, a woman may not be close to her mother or best friends with her sister.  She may not have or be in contact with close family members or classmates.  She should still develop an understanding of how close she is with the acquaintances she has;  that will guide her in knowing how much to confide and share.
              Second, announcements such as pregnancy, miscarriage / child loss, extreme financial or physical hardship, and relationship changes should not be announced on Facebook.  I understand the ritual of “updating one’s status” means a lot to some people.  Trust me, your mom is not amused to hear of your engagement by reading your relationship update on Facebook.  Likewise with any other major announcement;  for most people on Facebook, I would assume you are not as close to some as to others.  That does not mean that the event doesn’t need to ever be discussed on Facebook; it is just that proper manners dictate your telling personally, not necessarily “in person,” those closest to you, such as best friends and close family members.  If you are not sure how close someone is to you, here are some questions to ask yourself:
                      Does this friend tell me her major announcements?  If yes, put her on the tell personally list.
                      Do I have at least some form of regular, albeit sparse, communication and interaction with this family member (i.e. a mom, a sister, aunt)? If yes, put them on the tell personally list.
              Do not ever ask yourself how you expect the other person would take it when considering whether or not to tell them.  I have seen this idea discussed on the web lately by a few self-pitying people who have experienced tragedy;  however, a well bred woman should not hesitate to share her pregnancy with a best friend or family member who has had a miscarriage or lost a child.  You can do it tactfully and kindly, and you cannot hold yourself responsible for any pain they may feel due to circumstances outside your control as long as you know you have behaved kindly and properly.  You should not hesitate to share an upcoming wedding or engagement with your dear friends even if you cannot afford to invite them to the wedding.  It is far more offensive to exclude someone with whom you are in contact and who has shared their life with you, based on your opinion that they won’t like what you have to say, than to share your good news out of respect for the depth and length of the relationship.  Believe me, the excluded people are not going to be happy hearing about your pregnancy or marriage from someone else or through Facebook.
              Finally, you have the right to tell whatever you want to whomever you want.  So if you want to cut out your sister, (former) best friend, aunt, grandmother, or whomever from your announcements, that’s completely within your right.  You shouldn’t feel pressured to be close to someone just because you once were or because you’re family.  I understand many toxic relationships exist, especially among family members, and I sympathize with those who are in them or have left such relationships.  You don’t owe anyone an explanation.  What does not make sense, however, and is rather rude and uncivil, is women who do not ostensibly cut off relations with a particular friend or family member but treat them as if they have.  For example, women who show up to all the family events they’re invited to but don’t invite anyone back to their place;  women who accept wedding and birthday gifts but don’t share their pregnancy announcement with the same family members who have extended courtesy to them;  or, women who only interact with the family when the family reaches out to them and don’t reach back.  I believe that at some point, a woman needs to decide where she stands with her family and act consistently.  If for whatever reason she decides that she does not wish to share her important news with certain family members or friends, she needs to show them the courtesy of mostly or completely refraining from interacting with them and taking advantage of their generosity.  You’re either close to someone or you aren’t.  You can’t have it both ways.  I have heard from many women over the last few years who are finding out they’re the last to know a big announcement from someone they thought was a best friend or a close family member.  It’s hurtful to women who don’t understand how or why the relationship has changed, and it’s confusing especially when their supposed friend or family member acts as if they want this women to be their friend, but then they don’t return the same level of closeness in the relationship.
              It’s time we all grew up.  I am specifically speaking to my generation of millennials;  some of us are passing 30, many of us are married and most are running our own households and are women within our own right.  We’re no longer children.  We can be mature by giving equal treatment in a relationship.  If your family and friends confide in you, confide in them.  If you’re not comfortable being close, distance yourself.  Don’t stay close and act aloof.  If you have good news, don’t think you’re doing someone else a favor by not telling them, even if they have had bad news.   Give them the opportunity to be mature about handling your news.  If they’re not mature about it, it isn’t your fault.  Excluding them because you don’t think they are able to handle it isn’t your decision to make, and you risk losing more friends that way.
              What are your thoughts about sharing important news and reciprocating equal treatment in a relationship?  Do you find this issue harder to deal with as you get older?  Have you lost or distanced yourself from any friends who did not exhibit equal trust and confidence in a relationship?  I enjoy hearing the perspectives of my readers, and thank you for reading The Well Bred Woman in Progress.

Personal conduct code

               PCC. When I was a kid, it stood for Pensacola Christian College, a college my mother declared I was never allowed to attend based on her experience there.  These days, I use it to denote my personal conduct code, and it stands for all the little ways that I have.  There are so many things in life that aren’t right or wrong, but you have to make a choice in how to behave.  Today I was thinking about some of my “standards” and thought I’d pass along a few.  These choices I’ve made don’t make me better than anyone else.  Often the decisions we make in life are like choosing a chocolate milkshake over a strawberry one;  it’s not better, just different.  That said, I feel that the decisions I’ve made for my life are based on the intimate knowledge I have about both the subject in question and what is best for me.  I think it’s important that any well bred woman in progress gain the knowledge and wisdom she needs to make everyday decisions in a manner that best suits her lifestyle.  Here are some of mine.

               I don’t celebrate Halloween.  I would say it was because I’m a Christian,  but there are many Christians who have no such conviction.  However, I personally don’t like it and don’t see a way for me to participate that also brings glory to God.  So our family skips it.
               I refuse to hear gossip that doesn’t pertain to me directly.  Do I wish I could say I never participate in gossip? Sure, but that would be a long way from the truth.  But if someone begins to tell me something completely unrelated to me or mine, I interrupt as soon as possible and ask that they not fill me in.  It’s just not my “need to know.”
               I vet rumors.  The other day someone told me that they saw on Facebook there was a lawsuit in Tennessee against a public school in which kids had been forced to convert to Islam.  Thinking that sounded rather extreme, even for open minded America, I looked it up.  In a cursory Google search, I found not only no evidence of a lawsuit against a school, but also statements from school administers that sounded like students were, at most, learning about Islam along with other world religions.  So I wrote that rumor off as unfounded. (People lose sleep over the craziest things!)
               Once denied, never again invited.  If I invite someone over to the house, and there is a sincere lack of effort on their part to accept the invitation (even if dates need to be reworked or something), or if they outright turn it down, I don’t invite them again for anything.  It’s one thing to turn down an invitation because you were busy, but if you imply no interest in coming, I won’t keep asking.  That’s just my thing.
               I write emails old fashioned letter style with a “Dear” and a “Sincerely.”  And I hope my brain isn’t on autopilot when I write to the utilities company right after a relative…and wind up with a “love” in my signature.
               I don’t ever discuss my weight or my husband in a group of women or with non-relatives.  For the first topic, because I want to retain some mystery and not appear too easily intimate, and for the second, to show respect for my husband which also shows respect for myself and draws respect from others.
               I don’t share details about my children with strangers.  Really, do I have to give a reason for this?
               Which brings me to my last point:  I don’t give reasons to people who don’t need them.  Unless it’s law enforcement or someone who is specifically hired to vet my statements, like a loan officer, I don’t feel obligated to explain stuff.  I explain it on here because i try to use myself as an example to make the point of the blog.  But to all the Christians who think I’m too conservative, the home schoolers who think I’m too structured, the parents who think I’m too strict, and the crowd who thinks I’m too liberal, I just don’t owe them an explanation.
               Thank you for reading;  do share your personal conduct codes in the comments if you want!

Love, not legalism

               Ah, this blog. I have enjoyed writing on it, both expressing my opinion and charting my journey to become a better version of myself. The way my brain works, I don’t really understand something until I write about it. The understanding increases when I read back what I write. Anyone else like that? It works on a lesser scale with talking; I think something, talk about it, and then listen to myself discuss it, and the light bulb clicks on. My husband (and nearly everyone else I know) just think I talk too much. So a lot of times I have quiet discussions in my head. I’ve been writing a lot of meaningful blog posts lately, but they’ve all been in my head. Sometimes the reason I don’t post is because I think my post is too short, or about something I assume is incredibly obvious to most people; sometimes, I just don’t get the time. I’m in my second week of home schooling the oldest two children in first grade. But today a thought popped into my head, and out of both guilt that I seldom post and hope that it may be encouraging, I am sharing before I make dinner and get distracted again.

               My oldest child has been called many things by well meaning parents. The term I hear most often is “strong-willed.” When I look at him I don’t see a problem to be fixed, nor even a challenge greater than the challenge of raising the other three. I see my beautiful, tiny baby boy—maybe just a bit bigger these days. I think he himself faces challenges the other children seem to glide through, but then he has his strengths, too. Anyway, today my eldest and I clashed again; there are a few behavioral traits I disapprove of, and lying is one of them. We had a talk. I feel weary of constantly correcting him but I know I can’t condone unacceptable behavior at some times and condemn it at other times. Still, it’s hard when you’re trying to raise a disciplined, well-guided child without resorting to legalistic tactics. And the more guiding a child needs, the harder it is to avoid becoming a legalistic robot, in my opinion. So this happened.

               We had our talk about being honest. I said smart things, earnest things, simple things. I wondered if any of it was getting in his mind. Then we finished up school and had free time for the afternoon. He made a craft. It was a card for me. It looked like this:

I luv yo mome :)

               He was sorry for everything, but I feel that he still doesn’t grasp the importance or necessity of telling the truth. He’s young. I expect that will take time. But the one thing he was keenly aware of was that he had disappointed me. So the point of the card was to let me know that he still loved me, even though he had done a bad thing. He proudly held it up, pointed to the words, and said, “Does this say—I think it says—I was trying to write—” and I looked at it closely, and said, “It says, ‘I love you, Mom!’” And he beamed. Yes! That was it. Did he spell words wrong? Of course. He’s only in first grade. So the thing I learned—From my experience, some parents are overreaching when it comes to their expectations for their kids. If the child spelled the word “mom” correctly in spelling class yesterday, why shouldn’t he be expected to spell it correctly from here on out? But that’s the entirely wrong approach. At that moment, what was happening was a parenting moment. A being-a-kid moment. A bonding, loving, emotional, healing moment where my small son was making peace with me. It would have been beyond inappropriate for me to correct his spelling at that moment!

               Reading this over I again come to the part where I’m thinking, “Should I even post this?” because my readers probably think that I’m messed up to be realizing, as part of my journey in progress, that legalism has no place in love. Really, it’s humbling that I should even have to realize something like this and not just already know it and be acting on it. Nevertheless, now that I’ve embarked on this search for truth, I find there are lessons to be learned almost every day, and this was the one I reviewed today.

               Thank you for reading the Well Bred Woman in Progress!

Party etiquette

               So much can be said about party etiquette, I could not cover it all. Being the time of year in the northern hemisphere for outdoor entertaining, weddings, dinners, and other gatherings, I’ve had several thoughts swirling in my head about manners. Here they are in no particular order.

As a hostess:
               Clean the house and tidy the party area. The guest bathroom should not have personal items sitting out.
               For the duration of the party, all pets should be confined to areas of the house away from the guests.
               Provide at least one raw fruit or vegetable when serving food.
               Start and end the event at the stated times.
               Greet each guest personally and direct them to a place to sit or mingle. Introduce guests unfamiliar with each other.
               If a guest is invited to a bridal shower, they should be invited to the wedding as well. Typically one invites fewer, closer friends to the shower and more people to the wedding.
               It is considered best form that the bridal or baby shower be given by a friend, not a relative, of the recipient.

As a guest:
               Respond promptly to invitations, letting your hostess know if you must arrive late or leave early.
               If you are uncertain whether or not children are included in the invitation, find out ahead of time.
               Always bring a gift and card to events such as birthday or anniversary celebrations, showers, and weddings.
               Bring a thank you note written beforehand to give to your hostess after a dinner party or luncheon.
               Do not feel obligated to attend functions given by distant relatives or acquaintances around whom you don’t feel comfortable.
               Never invite others to an event that you received an invitation for. If you are invited to an event by another guest and not the hostess, do not accept.
               If you are invited to a dinner, do not offer to bring any food. A bottle of wine is acceptable if you wish to bring a hostess gift, but be sure you know the preferences of the hosting family.
               If your hostess asks you for your family’s eating preferences or allergy information, answer honestly. It is crushing to be told that a family “eats anything” and then watch them pick apart and eventually throw away the dinner one prepared.

               That’s all I can think of for now, based on my interesting and mostly enjoyable experiences the past few weeks. What are your thoughts on proper party manners? How do you go out of your way to be a gracious, considerate hostess or guest?

               Thank you for reading The Well Bred Woman in Progress!

The difference between being friendly and being familiar

                One of the guidelines of behavior I attempt to maintain is a working application of the difference between being friendly and being familiar (or being friends).  On the surface it sounds complicated, but I have found that doing so has helped me to become more professional in the process of everyday transactions.  This is important to me because although you may always be familiar with those close to you, you needn’t be familiar with just anyone, such as grocery cashiers, salesman, and people who queue with you.  However, you can always be friendly no matter what;  the key is to know how far to go without crossing the boundary of acting like friends when you are really just strangers or acquaintances. 

                With my family and friends, I already know what the boundaries and comfort levels are of the various relationships.  Therefore, the purpose of this post is to give my basic guidelines for being friendly to those not close to me without my being familiar.  The first thing I do is make a pleasant face upon making eye contact with any person.  Not only does this put my best face forward and enhance my image, it is also courteous to others who did nothing to deserve a scowl or glare.  I don’t necessarily initiate a smile at everyone, depending on the feeling I get at the moment.  The reason is that I don’t want to appear too glib or naive or to be encouraging unwanted attention.  I also don’t think it’s realistic to walk around with a 24/7 pasted on smile, and when I try that, it looks fake.  I do try to return all smiles I’m given.  The technicalities of facial expressions vary amongst us all, and I don’t expect anyone to follow my preferences exactly.  This is just the way that has been right for me.

                The second way I distinguish between friendliness and familiarity is in greeting.  I am not the type that waves for no reason at strangers while driving.  I wave to thank and that’s it.  I have lived in areas where waving at every random pickup truck that passed on the dirt road was the thing to do, and I don’t think it’s wrong. It’s just a level of familiarity with strangers that I don’t feel obligated to maintain.  I don’t greet people in person for no reason.  I don’t go up to random cute children, polished women, or handsome men and gush all over them.  I feel like they didn’t come to the gift shop or the cafe to be greeted by me, another customer.  You can tell by my tone that nothing like that has ever happened to me and my family before.  🙂  I always try to return a greeting when spoken to me–that’s basic courtesy.  I always greet (and try to be the first to greet) people I have chosen to interact with, such as those I am on hand to do business with, or someone whose assistance I need.  I try not to start any conversation with someone without an appropriate greeting first (such as, “Excuse me, ma’am, could you tell me where the peanut butter is?” instead of “Where is the peanut butter? “).

                Besides greeting, interactions with strangers also involve addressing them.  My preference here is for “ma’am” and “sir” for anyone who looks above 18 or so.  I cannot abide being referred to as “miss,” “miz,” “hun,” “sweetheart,” “mom,” or “hey you” and thus do not call others by these epitaphs.   Again, your mileage may vary, but I feel the pitfall of familiarity is avoided completely by using the formal “ma’am” and “sir.” 

                After greeting and addressing someone a conversation usually follows.  Sometimes the conversation is crucial to the interaction, such as discussing options for a major household purchase, and other times it occurs to pass the time, such as while the groceries are scanned.  This is the time that many people, mostly inadvertently I’m sure, cross the boundary between being friendly and being familiar.  I never feel obligated to share personal information such as names, ages, school enrollment, addresses, occupations, etc.  This is my preference;  I’m not paranoid that the person interrogating my children on their school’s name and grade level is going to stalk them.  I just think that as a whole society needs to go back to minding its own business, and the details of my life simply do not have to be shared with anyone who pleases.  Last Friday night, I made a late grocery run and encountered a chatty cashier at the evening’s end.  He asked me if I had any plans for the weekend.  I replied that I have plans most days.  He said, “Aren’t you going to tell me what they are?”  I replied that no, I don’t share personal details with grocery cashiers;  I prefer that they just do their job and that they not attempt to make friends with me.

                This is probably sounding really cold going up on the internet.  But I really would be happy if customers and service providers alike would just focus on accomplishing their intended purpose without adding unnecessary familiarity to the process.  The way my personality is (woman? introvert? who knows), any sort of personal interaction requires an emotional effort from me, and I prefer to reserve that effort for my actual friends and people I care about.  I also easily get flustered so keeping things professional definitely makes life easier for me.  And even though I think being friendly is a good idea, I would rather someone be a bit gruff and taciturn than that they go on and on grilling me about my life.  I’m just trying to buy the food, people!

Soft summer wardrobe replenishment from Goodwill

               When I was a young teenager, my mother gave me a copy of Carole Jackson’s “Color Me Beautiful” book about seasonal color analysis. I was fascinated by the subject and quickly categorized myself as a “Summer.” A decade later I resume reading on the subject and found that the original four season theory had been further developed and expanded by several modern color analysis pioneers. For my birthday a few years ago, I had a professional color analysis done and received the official diagnosis of “Soft Summer.” At first I resisted the colors given to me because they looked a bit dull on the swatch, but when I actually tried wearing them the difference they made on me was astounding. Because my coloring is so soft and light, in the wrong colors my skin tends to look white, red, or yellow, and my hair often looked gray even though I have no gray hairs yet. The right colors make my skin look peachy pink and my hair looks brown. It isn’t the most striking coloring women have been blessed with, but it works when I wear the right colors. After four pregnancies my body shape has changed quite a bit; combine that with owning practically nothing in my suitable color range and I have a very good excuse to go shopping!

               My current spring/summer wardrobe, not including two pairs of jeans, one pair of shorts, and two tees:

               (It’s small and sad and half of it is outerwear.)

               I am in desperate need of tshirts, shorts, pants, dresses, skirts, blouses, and a blazer/jacket. So pretty much everything except jeans! For the past month I have scoured my local mall but practically everything, even in the higher end and classic type stores, was trendy. And most of the trends thus far in 2015 are not my style! So yesterday I went to Goodwill hoping to find treasure. I got 6 t-shirts and a pair of shorts. They were reasonably priced and they all matched or coordinated with my color swatch perfectly! I was super excited! Since a lot of the “Soft Summer” collections and items I’ve seen on Pinterest and Polyvore look nothing like the colors on my swatch, I wanted to share a picture of what I got in natural lighting (sunlight through a window) in case it resonates with any of my readers who have similar coloring.

               My loot:

               At first I felt awkward shopping with a swatch–I am pretty sure seven different people gave me the “you are a weirdo” eye–but the satisfaction of knowing that I bought stuff that not only just works but also looks great on me, even second hand tees, was worth the awkwardness of shopping with a swatch at a store where many people aren’t so picky. The other great thing about shopping at Goodwill was that the items were arranged by color, and being able to compare, say, 20 different shades of navy was helpful for determining which one matched or coordinated with the swatch most closely. At a different store, any given product may be offered in navy, pink, white, and yellow, which creates such a contrast that it’s easy to look at the navy one and think that since you have navy on your swatch, that must work–but it may actually be a green-navy, pink-navy, or brown-navy instead of the gray-navy you wanted (for soft summers).

               Have any of my readers had a color analysis done, or do you follow your own intuition of which colors make you look fab versus drab? I’d also love to hear your secret shopping strategies for looking your best. Anyone else shop second hand/consignment? Let me know in the comments!

Housekeeping routine

               After buying a home last October, I finally began settling back into the routine of living in an actual house, not a hotel or summer cabin. But it didn’t take long for me to realize that I had no routine; the length of time since I’d last kept house (May) and the new house layout left me needing an entirely new approach. So I tackled a project I’ve been wanting to do for a while but had never accomplished before the move.

               When I got married in 2007, my life went from zero to sixty quickly. We rented two apartments in the first two years of marriage, then bought a house. By that point we were expecting our second child. The children kept coming until 2013 when we had four and had maxed out our tiny house. I never really ironed out a working plan for housekeeping. I cleaned, cooked, and donated stuff all the time, but not consistently or with any reason. I also devoted a lot of time to tidying up and putting things away, which made me feel better temporarily. But I’d see the inches of dust high on shelves and the calcium streaks in the toilet and feel majorly guilty. I just couldn’t seem to find the time to actually clean because I was so busy picking up. My mother always devoted an entire Saturday to cleaning the house top to bottom, but that was not my style. Between fatigue and cabin fever, I knew I’d never devote my precious Saturday to cleaning. Besides, I was home all day every day, so I really wanted to spend part of each day doing part of the work, yielding a semi clean house all the time. All I had to do was make a comprehensive list of all the chores to be done, label them by frequency, and paste them onto a calendar. But I was nervous. What if my results yielded that I now had to spend EVERY day cleaning all day?

               As the last boxes got unpacked in the new house, I started noticing–you’ll never guess–the beginnings of dust piling high up on shelves and calcium streaks in the toilet. I had to do something. If I was going to adopt a cleaning schedule, it was now.

               It was a week’s long project, but I listed every chore and made a schedule. It wasn’t as bad as I’d expected. The first two weeks it took me almost all day to get everything done on the heavier days, but it soon became routine as I didn’t have to check the list as much. I included things like standard cleaning as well as checking my free credit reports online a few times a year, scheduling maintenance for the slate roof, sorting through the kids’ clothes, and tuning the piano. I tweaked a few things and now I’m really happy with it. I just need to be told exactly what to do each day as if I were working at a job with regular responsibilities or else I’ll flounder with no direction. If any of you are thinking about changing your cleaning and housekeeping routine to something different, even if it’s radically different, I encourage you to do it because it will be worth it once you get accustomed to it. I started in November and now that it’s April, I can get almost everything done in 2 hours or less in the morning, leaving me the rest of the day to play with the children, home school, relax, try new recipes, and……tidy up. 🙂

Example month

Reflecting on regrets

               While I wouldn’t trade my current life for anything, until recently I couldn’t help but wonder how things might have turned out differently.   I married young in what I now perceive to be unnecessary cautiousness and dependence on my future husband’s income earning potential.   Having moved out of my parents’ home at 19 and run out of money to continue college, I saw a moment that I felt I had to seize and took it.   Even though things were going well, it took only three years before tiny seeds of regret began rooting in my mind:   was I too young? too desperate? too uneducated?   Had I greatly missed out by not living independently for a while?   Did I have too many kids?   Did I know how to raise them?

I was supposed to look contemplative here.

               Since 2010, I’ve alternately wallowed in and denied these regrets–until I fully gave in to the what if’s and made an important discovery.   Last week I found myself once again reflecting on my fate, destiny, and circumstances.   As I went through “what if” scenarios in my mind, I realized that having done things differently in the past may have led to a very different physical outcome but that the internal transformation I’ve been undergoing would likely have been the same.   I realized that my choices led to my destination.   That means that presently, even if I’ve made some decisions I could regret, I actually have great power because the ability to choose is still mine.   I’m not resigned to let whatever happens happen because in the past, I jumped on a hamster wheel of no further change, metamorphosis, or control over the future.   Of course, some things are fixed now, commitments made must be held onto, but some things are easier than the alternative would have been, especially when it comes to being financially stable.   I must stop looking at this life of mine as a series of undetermined, uncontrollable events that now occur like dominoes just because I made hasty decisions as a younger woman.   Indeed, I still have much power over my day to day life and most definitely over my future by the decisions I make each day.

               In my imagination I can picture everything, from one’s exercise and beauty routine to what one eats to how one pursues religion and spirituality to one’s moral principles and character to what transferable job skills one acquires, potentially affecting the course of one’s life five, ten, and twenty years later.   I think a lot of people read lifestyle blogs and self help books looking for a prescription formula of how to lead the perfect, ideal, best, fulfilling, or otherwise desirable life, but since the ideal outcome varies for each person, so should our choices.   We don’t need others to dictate our choices;   instead we need to recognize that we each have more power than we think to choose our way to our desired outcome.   I believe most people are already innately aware of their true desires, preferences, opinions, and comfort levels, although for some like me raised in strict families, churches, or schools it may take a few years as a young adult to fully acknowledge one’s inner self and personality.   But as a person discovers herself, she should make every decision based on her best true self, her own characteristics, the part of herself that knows what she needs and wants.   Like a muscle, the more one gets in touch with one’s innate self, the easier it will become to choose wisely across the entire spectrum of life’s activities.   One doesn’t have to follow a certain skin care routine, for example, or buy this makeup or that fashion item, attend this religious group or parent a child that way, just because of the opinion of someone else.   While there are scientific facts supporting a lot of emotional, mental, and physical health issues that I think each person has a responsibility to study and apply, there is a lot of room for leeway in personal dietary requirements , the type of relationship style that suits one, or how introspective or not one wishes to be.   The internet is full of information but it is even more full of copy cats who emulate their favorite blogger or celebrity without thinking about the fact that it is their own life, not the blogger’s, that they’ll be living twenty years down the road.   Living with the then current product of today’s choices, all the time and energy spent making these daily lifestyle decisions now won’t be recoverable if it didn’t lead the way they wished it to.

               So my challenge to you is to consider the power you have to direct your future, besides current unavoidable commitments and responsibilities.   If you’re unmarried, I cannot emphasize enough to know yourself before making a marriage commitment.   If you have regrets about the past, that isn’t bad;   it’s better to feel them and even give in a little to the “what if’s” than happily deny them, because eventually they’ll explode from your subconscious to the possible major upheaval of your current world, such as a midlife crisis.   I found thinking through the “what if’s” of my decisions from college onward–mentally exploring as many roads not taken as I could think of (along with a tiny bit of Facebook creeping on ex-boyfriends or boys I was too shy to approach)–to be mind clearing.   That is, in my imagination I still found myself developing mentally and socially in much the same way as I have over the last decade, although perhaps a bit more legally independent.   I realize hindsight is 20/20 and for some this exercise may seem foolish or a waste of time, but for me reflecting on the power of one’s choices seemed like a breakthrough.   Perhaps it can help one of my readers, as well.

               In closing, Shannon of one of my favorite blogs, The Simply Luxurious Life, touched on this topic in last week’s newsletter.   The gist of her thoughts were that we can imagine our future life developing all we want, but passivity will merely render us sitting on the sidelines assisting others in their dreams.   To make the life of our dreams, we must proactively make the decisions needed to carve out our future.   Might I add, no matter the past.