Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Tending Your Garden

Any changes you make in your life really need to be part of all your life, if you intend for those changes to stick. So how does this work with my efforts (nearly five months in right now) to "become more French"? If this just an "at home" thing, or does it carry over?

So glad you asked!

Keep in mind that what I'm trying to do here is change my thinking, not just my wardrobe. It's easy to switch clothes - the real trick is to figure out what clothes are truly a reflection of you. In order to do that successfully, there's a great deal of "interior work" to do.

For instance, today my work outfit consisted of a white T-shirt, khakis with a black braided belt, black ballet flats (comfortable as bedroom slippers, by the way), a black ruffly jacket with three-quarter sleeves, and a red patterned scarf knotted into a necklace. My hair was in a French braid (my attempt today at a Dutch braid looking weirdly as if Belgium had invaded - there's a reason I don't post all my attempts at updos!) and I was rocking redredred lipstick and a discreet puff of Chanel perfume. I certainly looked French, but far more importantly, I felt like Mockingbird. I was comfortable, pulled together, and confident.

Yay, me. Not all days are like that, though. Some days it's a real effort to not just toss on a turtleneck and a college sweatshirt (which has been my go-to for far too long!) and just lumber in to work. Some days the world seems like a kind place populated by thoughtful people; other days it seems like humanity is a bad case of global lice that the planet ought to shake off as quickly as it can mange to do so.

What to do on those days?

As Voltaire might say, "Tend your garden." Thoughtfully consider what you have done to enrich your life and your outlook. Take a few minutes to check - have you tended to yourself? Have you had water? Enough sleep? Eaten real food, instead of processed faux-food? Gone for a walk? Read something non-work related? Cleaned your face? Washed your hair? Taken a bubble bath? Had a cup of tea and told the world to just hang on for a few minutes? You simply must take care of yourself to have the energy and focus to take care of others. So, first things first - how's your garden?

Voltaire's quote (from his satirical novella Candide), also refers to doing some actual work in the garden. You can't just watch it and hope for the best; you need to go tend it. Optimism is all well and good, but it must not be a substitute for purposeful action. Not all purposeful action will work. This is very important to understand. Do not be afraid to ask yourself, "When's the last time I failed at something?" In fact, ask yourself this question regularly, for if you haven't failed at something lately, you haven't tried anything new lately. 

Now, I'm not suggesting you fail at skydiving or heart surgery. But try new things - not all of them will work, or be to your taste, but you'll never know that if you stay safe and secure. That's the same thing as constantly outlining your paper instead of actually writing it (as an example). It's by knowing what you like and what suits you that you learn who you are. So what follows is a list of a dozen things I've failed at lately. Note that many of these are just not that big a deal. I learn by failing, but I get another chance to use what I've learned.
  • I hesitated and a pair of flat-out gorgeous dark red boots I was already half in love with were purchased by someone else. Carpe caligae, friends!
  • I didn't want to bother the barista so I didn't ask for the pumpkin pie spice when I really wanted it for my coffee.
  • I skipped the time in the morning that I set aside to pray and meditate then wondered why I was out of sorts all day. (That's a practice that really does help me brace my feet for the day.)
  • I tried an orange nail polish for Halloween and it chipped off in less than a day because I applied it in a rush. (Lots of my failures have to do with rushing, I've noticed.)
  • I desperately needed to take a few minutes and reset my mood instead of reveling in being angry, which is (quite frankly) a luxury I can't afford.
  • I allowed myself to get dragged into a Facebook argument - you never win those.
  • I thought I could fix a problem that, when I really thought about it, I realize will take many people working together to address and solve.
  • Because it's what I wanted, I thought things would simply unfold the way I had it scripted in my head, forgetting that other people have their own scripts.
  • Turns out that sometimes you need more than an extra two bobby pins to make a hairstyle work.
  • I gave in and had popcorn and movie candy for dinner. 
  • I let myself think that chores were more important than spending time with those I love.
  • I didn't look through my travel supplies and ran out of contact solution while out of town at a conference.
I hope to add to this list as the month continues. What about you? What have you failed at lately? And if you haven't, get hopping!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

A French Day

Any time you begin a huge shift in procedure and policy, you can expect that the path of progress won't be an unending march toward the light. When the "procedure and policy" basically involves a major reset of The Entire Way of Doing Things in your personal life, this is even more true. Sad, but it's a universal truth. Change requires challenge. And yes, I'd gotten off the French road a bit. Therefore, I took Sunday as a "reset day" to get me re-committed to these positive lifestyle changes. How did I get back on the horse?
The color really DOES wash out!
  • First, I decided I wanted to. If the changes are working, you ought to stick with them. These are working for me, but I wasn't working the changes.
  • Next, I decided on a "reset day." This was to be a day in which I really made a conscious, ongoing effort to live according to the principles that had been working for me.
  • I started by sleeping in. There's something deliciously French about one day a week when you don't have to set an alarm and can just snuggle under the covers with the one you've chosen to spend your life with.
  • Next was a day-old croissant from Dunkin' Donuts. Don't judge me - I live in a small town and croissants are hard to come by. I'd picked one up yesterday (along with an eclair!) prior to my 5K untimed Color Dash. (Note the new tutu - my original one became a nest for a family of wrens this summer and - well, there's just no coming back from that.) The eclair was eaten and the croissant was saved. I reheated it, sliced a perfectly ripe pear, added a dollop of actual butter and put the whole shebang on one of the good china plates. Then I poured a cup of hazelnut-flavored cafe au lait and added a generous sprinkle of cinnamon. By the way, at this point, I was still in my Turkish robe. 
  • After breakfast, I showered and took care to be nice to myself, even though I didn't really plan on going out and visiting with anyone. Good quality lotion, perfume, a touch of mascara and lipstick. Remember to brush the hair, even if it's just going into a ponytail. There, now. I feel better.
  • Got some fresh water and took a deep breath. Time to apply the KonMari Method to bookcases. This was harder than it was with clothes, but then again, I'm a bibliophile. Still, I tried to stay true to the core concept - don't concentrate on what you're discarding; instead, focus on what you truly want to keep. I lost count after my 70th book in the "go bless someone else" pile.
  • After a lovely lunch of homemade potato-onion-ham soup, fresh yogurt, and a juicy apple, I divided the books that were leaving the house into categories and then worked to reshelve what was staying. I then loaded up the car before I was tempted to change my mind.
  • I dug out my old bread machine (I'd already shopped for the ingredients) and started a loaf of French bread.
  • I finished grading a project for two of my classes. I took my time and read their responses carefully - they really are starting to get it, which feels great, although it's far more them feeling confident enough to get a little real than anything that I've done.
  • I made plans to meet a running friend for coffee - we didn't run today; I needed a day off after yesterday's Color Dash. I had a book that I needed to pass on to her and I'd left some things in her car yesterday, so a meet-up was a good idea. I touched up my lipstick and left the house. 
    Not beignets, but pretty good bread!
  • On the way to the coffee shop, I dropped off books at two Little Free Library sites. Another batch went to the "free books" shelf at the coffee shop.
  • I visited with my friend, enjoyed an afternoon pick-me-up of milky coffee and a freshly-made (and warm!) chocolate croissant.
  • Then it was back home. I walked the Spooky-dog in the blissfully welcome sunshine. It was a short walk, but that's all either of us needed today.
  • Just as we walked in the door, the bread machine started beeping. Although the crust could be darker, it seems to have created a decent French loaf.
  • A simple supper of fresh bread and a chef salad followed, along with a pear and yogurt for dessert. More water, this time seltzer with lemon.
  • Along with dinner, FryDaddy and I watched The Babadook for an upcoming podcast. Truly a scary, not-sure-what's-happening, the-human-psyche-is-whacked film. I completely loved it.
  • I ended the day with a soak in a warm tub with good soap and soft music. Another tumbler of water.
  • Then it was time to end the day, feeling accomplished, but not rushed and out of sorts, and behind.
And there you have it! A day with a balance of work, good food, exercise, water, and thoughtful activity. Now to string together several of them . . . 

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Ooh La La!

It's been about three months since I started my quest to "become more French" in my attitudes. I've read half a dozen books on the topic, made some small changes (and a few large ones!) and am ready to report on my research.

Executive Summary - You should really do this!

Lengthier Explanation - As I explained in an earlier post, when I started this journey, I didn't think anything would change. I've made enough trips around the sun to know that I'm headstrong, set in my ways, and don't do well with down time. But I also knew that my methods weren't bringing me calm and a cancer diagnosis (even as mild a one as I had about this time last year) will scare you into making some changes.

It started with the idea of dieting. I've wanted to lose ten pounds for years, but nothing ever seemed to work and hey - it was "only" ten pounds. I was fine, right? Then I hit that magic birthday and the weight began to creep up. Still nothing to worry about; the doctor was quite happy with my bloodwork results and my various test numbers. However, radiation treatment meant a lengthy time of being very sedentary and eating whatever I wanted (and I didn't want salads and kale chips, let me tell you!) because - well, cancer and you're so consumed with dealing with that mess that everyone tells you to not worry about the scale (and they're right, by the way). So in June, I stepped on the scale and was horrified to discover that I weighed about 30 pounds more than I wanted to and that nothing - repeat, NOTHING - in my closet fit properly.

At this point, Something Had to Be Done. Having heard about the "French paradox" and having tried far crazier things in my life, I decided to look into this and maybe sort of "go French."

 Oddly enough, this did not include dieting. And yet, over the last three months, I've lost 12 pounds and I've done it without tracking my food or denying myself much of anything. I eat a lot more soup (homemade, which is another plus since prepared ones tend to be full of sodium) and don't go anywhere without a water bottle. I eat real food (which includes butter, sugar, and chocolate, along with huge salads, fruit smoothies, and plenty of vegetables) instead of sad, flavorless, packed-with-preservatives frozen whosits, and I watch my portions. It's interesting - it takes less "real food" to make me feel full and satisfied. I'm not totally virtuous - I occasionally eat the "bad stuff" but overall, my habits are much better than they've been. I also weigh myself often - I've heard conflicting reports on the advisability of doing this, but it works for me.

OK, that's all well and good. I still have 20+ pounds I want to lose and it's likely to take months. That's all right. Clothes that I bought when I was in "ohmigod, what can I wear to work when it gets cold?" mode are now slightly large on me, which is fantastic.

Which brings me to my next point - shopping.

As a general rule, I don't pay full retail for much of anything (read about that here) and I fretted over the French idea of fewer clothes, but better quality. Like many Americans, I had overflowing drawers stuffed with cheap clothes. I took several deep breaths and culled ruthlessly. (When much doesn't fit, it's easier, which is perhaps the only plus side to my balloon journey.) There's an axiom that says that you can't bring more into your life (stuff, love, etc.) unless there's room for it. Perhaps that's true - once I made room and committed to not buying anything unless it fit, I loved it, it was versatile, and the price was right for me - it's as if a celestial door opened. Consignment shops - that's where it's at. Go - and go often! - with patience and a spirit of adventure and buy NOTHING that doesn't fit ALL of these criteria. And, of course, be willing to haggle good-naturedly. (I also keep a list of what I'm looking for so I don't wind up buying things I don't need.)

I've been amazed at what I've found - classic, timeless pieces that will last me decades, if I properly care for them. Also, by having fewer items that go with more things, it's both easier to decide what to wear and I'm discovering new ways to put things together and I'm more confident about trying new things. I'm even experimenting with scarves!

I think the biggest takeaway from the last three months is that it's good to take care of yourself. I work full-time and still struggle to find that "sweet spot" of balance between work, family, the new book, and self-care, but I like using the "good stuff" (such as wearing the good pearl earrings on a random Tuesday or taking a 20-minute bath instead of a 5-minute shower) and it's good to try to have more fun everyday. Some of my steps in that direction include prepping a "bad day" box, getting a decent fountain pen to use instead of just cheap stick pens, using sidewalk chalk, and using fewer disposable paper cups at the coffee shop - carry your own mug instead. By the way, this really isn't a question of money - my finances are such that even shopping at Target right now is something that must be planned for. Budgets are actually your friend - tell your money where to go instead of just wondering where it all went - it's hard at first but it gets better. And you acquire things piece by piece.

I'm nowhere near done with this and, quite frankly, I hope it takes me years. I still have too much stuff and I still have tendencies to overwork and view time off as being wasted time. These are not good attitudes. (Common, yes, but good - no.) It is good to treat ourselves well - to drink fresh water and eat real food, to laugh and play, to get ourselves winded from running and then have Gatorade and a graham cracker, to nap and pet animals, to leaf through catalogs and magazines and to remember that the very seasons of the year itself include quiet time for growth and reflection. We could learn a lot from that.

Vive la France!

Saturday, August 22, 2015

A Moveable Feast

Not this!
As you know, I've been on a quest to "become more French" in my attitudes. No, I'm not sporting a beret, quoting Sartre, and smoking Gitanes (or smoking at all, actually), but I'm trying to incorporate some of the "pleasure principles" I've been reading about into my daily life.

So how's it going? Can a recovering perfectionist raised with an overabundance of the Calvinist work ethic find contentment in self-care? Or does she wind up wracked by guilt at not being productive 24/7 and go around in a constant state of apology?

Let us draw back the curtain and take a peek . . .

The whole adventure started around the end of June. For years, I'd heard about the "French paradox" and read accounts of the generous attitudes toward family time in French society. Well, that's fine, I thought. Wouldn't work here. Now, let me get back to replying to e-mails at 7 am. But this year, I was pulled up short - I had a diagnosis of Junior Auxiliary Cancer and my dad needed heart surgery. (Both of us are now doing fine, by the way.) That will change your perspective on things in a hurry. Just why exactly was I working so hard? Personal satisfaction? A paycheck? So I could say, "Working real hard, boss!" and hope for a paternal pat of approval as if I were a beagle? Hmm. This needed to be examined. (Besides, it's worth noting that French workers are more productive than Americans.)

Over the last two months, I've been trying some things that - to be candid - I never thought would work. The problem as I saw it was that I just didn't have time for that sort of thing. (I just realized - wow! I was Shere Khan!)

I can be so stubborn that it seems my spirit animal should be a mule.

I started small, convinced that (a) it was frivolous, (b) even if it wasn't frivolous, it wouldn't work and (c) even if it did work, it wouldn't matter. But, fine. I'd try and then you'd see it was useless. I started with a little thing that took me less than ten minutes to set up - I organized my cosmetics, tossing the old, cakey stuff and moving the "good stuff" (samples I'd gotten and was "saving") front and center so I'd use them every single day. A funny thing happened. Taking better care of myself through small things made me feel better about myself. I was worth using the fancy eye cream and moisturizer that had just been sitting there unopened! Imagine that! 

Then the universe conspired to help me and I started finding amazing things at incredible prices. The "hunt" was often more fun than the finding, but I couldn't help it - I started to find! I've pared down my wardrobe (still have a ways to go on that) and added a few high-quality pieces that I've found at good consignment shops (on sale! ON SALE!). I have quality skincare products that practically fell into my lap. I'm discovering my "signature scent" and taking the time to wear clothes that make me feel good. I'm drinking water by the tumbler and I'm not stuffing myself with sub-par food. I'm taking the time to read and going to sleep at a respectable hour. I also stop working at a decent hour and focus time and attention on my family. (By the way, I've also lost eight pounds of the weight I put on during my illness and treatment, so there's that.)

Two quick stories to try to convince you to give this a try. First -  since 2011, my hometown has been the host city for the American Legion World Series. My dad went to college on a baseball/football scholarship and played catcher for the only ACC team to win the College World Series,* so baseball is pretty important to us. My parents almost always come down for at least part of the Series, which falls just as my college is starting the fall semester. Therefore, I've always been "too busy" to go see a game with my parents, which resulted in them watching the games and probably wondering why their youngest daughter insisted on behaving like a headless chicken.

Sometimes, my intelligence can be measured deeply on the idiot scale.

So this year, I said, "Come on down!" and I worked hard to wrap up things so I'd have the free time to visit and play with my folks. No, I didn't have everything ready to go and neatly squared off before they arrived. But I saw game after game with my parents, I had a marvelous time, and I wouldn't trade those days in the hot sunshine for a gold monkey. And the first day of class went just fine!

Second - from the time she was a young woman, my mother has had an oval gold bangle bracelet that she wears so often it's a "signature piece" of hers. Now, this bangle is a solid piece - there's no hinge or latch - so you touch your pinkie and your thumb together and scrunch your hand a bit to slide it on. We call it her "gypsy bracelet" and we've never found another one. Round bangles, sure. Ovals with latches, no problem. But not a solid oval.

Yesterday, I got back to take a second look at a local consignment shop - there was a costume jewelry brooch I wanted to get another look at. And what gleams at me from the jewelry case but a silver bangle bracelet. Oval. No latch. Solid. Excited, I barely remembered to haggle. (But I did. They knocked off a few dollars and gave me the brooch for half off.)

This is what I mean. Once you decide to make changes - I mean, REALLY DECIDE - I've noticed that things mysteriously line up to help you; you just have to pay attention.

Also yesterday, I went to work to tie up some loose ends from the first week, then left to keep a massage appointment I'd made. (I've gone to the same masseuse for about a dozen years now and I really can't recommend it enough. In town, try her [tell her Mockingbird sent you!] - out of town, find one!) I then ran a couple of errands (dropped off bills, found the bracelet!, that sort of thing) and realized it was a gorgeous day and I hadn't really played with the Spooky-dog in ages. So I went home, changed clothes, left a message for FryDaddy (who has been wonderful about supporting my French attitudes as a "moveable feast" experiment), and my Dixie Dingo and I went to our favorite coffee shop. She had a bowl of water and got petted by many passers-by and I had a lovingly-made cortadito while I sat in the sunshine with my getting-longish hair held back with a scarf and hand-wrote a note to my parents. FryDaddy got my message and joined us, so we had an unexpected stroll through uptown and checked out a couple of shops we'd been meaning to explore in sort of an impromptu date night.

Now, not every day is like that, but why not open yourself to the idea of setting things up so it could be? Life doesn't have to be an unending trial and you (yes, you!) can decide to change it! Don't tell me it can't happen - you deserve to take care of yourself. Start today!

* Sorry, UVA won the Series in 2015. So the record stood for 60 years.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Relief, Rest, & Resilience

Earlier this week, I had my first post-surgical mammogram. I tried very hard to just not think about it ahead of time, but it kept sneaking back into my head. After all, this would be the first definitive proof that all the bad cells had been eradicated through the surgery in December and the radiation earlier this year. I'm delighted beyond belief to report that everything was clean and I'm considered to be well on my way to recovery!

Now, any woman who's being honest will tell you that mammograms aren't exactly a whirligig of fun. They're distinctly uncomfortable but they provide crucial information - the entire reason my outcome has been so positive stems from having regular exams. Catching things at Stage Zero (where, technically, it's "just" junior auxiliary cancer since the disease is so encapsulated) is SO MUCH BETTER than catching it later. So - ladies, make that phone call today. Gentlemen, encourage the women in your life to make that phone call today. No kidding. Call. If insurance and funds are an issue, look into alternative low-cost programs. There are many that take mammogram equipment on the road - a "Breastmobile," if you will.

I'm continuing with my 30 Day Challenge to treat myself like company. It's been a good thing, so far, although I'm noticing how often my "treats" involve sweets and I'm trying to find other rewards. In this, I think the French in particular and Europeans in general are way ahead of us. America still holds tightly on to our puritanical roots - if we're not working, sweating, and exerting, well - we're just shameless lollygaggers. We view pleasure with suspicion. Think about it - how often have you heard a woman order dessert and then say that she's being "bad"? Or that she'll "work it off" at the gym the next day?

There's nothing but guilt in that approach.

As the wise and wry Tasha Tudor would remind us, life is meant to be enjoyed, not saddled with.

So treat yourself well! Eat food that will keep you humming along, drink plenty of water, get enough sleep, spend time with friends, delight in your family and quit putting your own needs so low on the list that you have to turn the list over to find your name! Pet a cat, walk around your block, pick up a book, take the time to brew a real cup of tea. Use the good crystal, wear your pearl earrings on a Monday, spend your lunch hour testing perfumes to find your "signature scent."

Frivolous? Not a bit! Who knows? Maybe if we all treated ourselves a bit more kindly, we'd be quicker to extend that kindness to others. So smile at the cashier, let a car merge in front of you, wave at the garbage truck driver who's there to pick up your trash.

To quote Bluto in Animal House, "Don't cost nothin'." Sure, he's talking about something else, but still . . .

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Company's Coming!

Coloring - not just for kids!
I have to say that I like the results of my "French experiment" so far. It's been nice to start culling my closet (much, MUCH work to do there - I'd like to eventually get to a "capsule wardrobe," but that's likely to take a while) and I've enjoyed taking better care of myself through what - and when! - I eat. I'm going to continue on this road, with the ultimate goal being happier and more comfortable in my own skin (which, I have learned, is "bien dans sa peau" in French. Lovely, but with my North Cackalacky accent, I'm sticking with the English) .

So my next step is to spread the love of this idea. I've started the "30 Day 'Treat Yourself Like Company' Challenge" - every day, you are to do two nice things for yourself, the sort of thing that you'd do for company without a second thought, but don't often take the time to do for yourself. Let me explain - the idea here is not that you're running off to Bora Bora and abandoning your responsibilities. Instead, by taking care of yourself in multiple small ways throughout every day, you're actually setting yourself up to be better able to take care of others. This isn't about you becoming a diva and demanding that the world stop spinning to acknowledge your gloriousness; but it IS about you taking a few extra minutes to reset and value yourself. Examples might involve the indulgences you do on vacation, such as having ice cream for lunch or taking a good long soak in the tub. Or they might include using the "good stuff" on an ordinary day - the fancy guest soaps, the wedding china, or your best perfume. Maybe it's food - taking the time to make a perfect summer tomato sandwich or making soup from scratch and letting it simmer all day. Maybe it's skin care or makeup or jewelry or taking time to color or to just read for fun. It can be all of these things, some of these things, or none of these things. But for 30 days, go a little easy on yourself. Plan two treats per day - and no days off!

I've gotten a few friends to agree to do this with me and we'd love to have more - it doesn't matter where you start - just go ahead and jump in wherever. I'd love to hear what you're doing! Leave a comment here or use the hashtag #companycoming on Twitter.

Now go do something nice for yourself!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Becoming French

My ongoing quest to continue downshifting both hit a few bumps in the road and found new urgency since last we spoke. A few days after we left for vacation, I received word that my father had been taken to the hospital. Several days of tests and much worry later, it was determined that my dad needed some serious heart surgery. Serious to my mind, but practically routine these days - serious, though. Dad came through surgery like a champ (I had a screaming fit in a parking lot, but at least I didn't scare horses or children) and is back home now. According to his doctors, he's recovering nicely and should be just fine - even better than that, since now his heart is working without three blockages.

Let me tell you - something like that will snap you into focus pretty darned quick. Maybe even more so than my own diagnosis. There, I was concentrating on myself and what I could do; in this situation there wasn't anything I could do, other than burn up the road between my "now home" and my childhood home, which I did. I'm no good at sitting still, so I came up with the hare-brained idea to build Dad an elevated summer garden so he'd have something to look at from his bedroom/study while he recovers. It's good to stay busy and the final result was something that Dad seems to like quite a bit. Maybe this gardening thing is going to stick, after all.

It's a crazy time - this weekend is the second Joss in June conference and I have the privilege of delivering the keynote at that conference. My topic (dealing with Pinocchio and the new Age of Ultron movie) is one that I selected before the film came out, so I haven't had the time I'd have preferred to have had, but I dug this hole myself, so it's up to me to shovel my way out. I think I like where the presentation goes, but I'm a little too close to tell.

On top of that, my two summer classes begin for me next week, so I had to get those set up before we leave for the conference. Yeah, it's not exactly been a time of gentle musing and contemplation.

So - becoming French. I picked up a book when we last visited one of our favorite used book stores in Tennessee that was all about "finding your inner French girl." Sounds silly and fluffy, but it had some good advice about slowing down, taking care of yourself, eating real food (not at your desk, where I eat far too often), and there were some recommendations for movies to watch to soak in domestic details. I started trying to do some of these things - not drink my morning coffee standing over the sink, actually use the good stuff (we used the good china tonight, for example), take a few extra minutes to consider things before leaping off into something I don't really want to do and have fewer things, but of excellent quality. I even went through my closet to pare things down and finally got rid of clothes that simply don't fit any longer. Nope, I'm not hanging onto them until I lose the 20 pounds I've put on this year from stress eating. (My sweet tooth is my downfall and it must be reined in.) I'm not buying stuff just because it's on sale, either. To get in my closet from now on, a thing has to be something I need, something I can wear often, something beautiful, and something of high quality at a good price. Taking this attitude has already paid off, as I found an item I'd been looking for off and on for years in a consignment shop that has become a sort of haven for me. (And that's all I'll say about that, lest you think I've turned totally materialistic.)

While I haven't turned into a beret-wearing, baguette-chomping clotheshorse, already I see some progress in achieving my own level of je ne sais quoi. I'm taking the extra few minutes to take care of my skin, instead of just slapping on soap and scrubbing like a deckhand; I take time to relax in the evening (including taking the time to actually make tea instead of just heating a random mug in the microwave), I'm working to remember that family is more important that work, and I'm also trying to enjoy my work more instead of feeling constantly behind.

The French just may be on to something.