Fatherly wisdom, Thomas Merton, tea and cats: It’s a Friday round up!

This photo doesn't do justice to the beautiful blue skies happening as I write this post.

This photo doesn’t do justice to the beautiful blue skies happening as I write this post.

It is 68 degrees and sunny in Houston on this fantastic Friday. My friends and family in Kentucky didn’t appreciate my celebration of this fact on social media today, where I was reminded that it’s all of 12 degrees there as I write this post.

I miss my loved ones and my home state, but not that sort of weather!

Speaking of family, as I mentioned in yesterday’s Budget Elegance post, I learned the art of living simply and cheaply from my dad and stepmom, among other family members. As you’ll see as you continue to read this missive, I make sure to let them know how grateful I am for the countless lessons they taught me about frugality, thrift, conservation and finding enjoyment in the smalles, simplest things.

For example, on Sunday I was watching cooking shows on PBS. Suddenly, I had a

"Fancy" snackage, just add sardines and mustard.

“Fancy” snackage, just add sardines and mustard.

memory of watching “Nova” on PBS with my dad and older brother, while chowing down on saltines with sardines canned in mustard. It was about the time of day when I usually want a snack, so I went the nostalgic route and opened a can of King Oscar sardines in olive oil.

Instead of the build as you eat method of fishing it out with a fork, slapping it on the cracker, eating it, then rinse and repeat, I created a little hors d’oeuvre tray with about six or seven sesame wheat crackers gingerly topped with a bit of sardine and a dollop of mustard. My “fancy” version of this childhood snack was of course inexpensive, but it looked so lovely on the colorful Fiestaware plate I used that it didn’t feel like I was being frugal at all. In fact, it felt like a guilty pleasure and it also reminded me of wonderful moments spent with my family.

I took a quick snap and messaged it to my dad, along with the memory. Here’s part of our little exchange:

Thanks for the tips on frugal living, pops!

Thanks for the tips on frugal living, pops!

Perhaps to some people it’s silly to make such a big production out of crafting a snack of sardines and crackers; and to get so much joy out eating it; and then to thank the person who introduced it to you.  After all, it’s just cheap fish in a can! But, I feel incredibly fortunate to know the value of money and to appreciate and artfully celebrate the most seemingly mundane tasks and treats.

Since leaving my senior reporter position at the Houston Chronicle to become a full-time freelancer, I’ve of course had many occasions to practice this artful celebration. A huge part of saving money, for me, involves enjoying spending more time at home, rather than out on the town. Thankfully, I love to read.

The past couple of weeks, for several reasons, I find myself revisiting a lot of my books about mindfulness and meditation. Last week, I finished “The Not So Big Life,” by Susana Susanka and this week I started “Zen Keys: A Guide to Zen Practice,” by Thich Nhat Hanh. Next I may grab “The Seven Storey Mountain,” the celebrated autobiography by trappist monk, mystic, author and poet Thomas Merton . I read it a couple of years ago and absolutely loved it. You don’t have to be Catholic or even spiritual to appreciate the beautiful prose and the captivating — and sometime scandalous, gasp! — story of Merton’s life.

Reading these books about mindfulness reminds  me of some of the reasons I wanted the career change to freelance, which were to live more simply, have more time with loved ones and pursue more art and travel. Also, I just wanted more freedom which is at the heart of the teachings of the books I’ve been reading. What I keep being reminded of in the books is that it’s essential to spend my time “being” instead of “doing” and when I am doing — whether it’s reading, watching TV, eating, cleaning the bathroom, visiting with a friend, shopping for necessities or making fancy sardine snacks — that I must pay attention. It’s such as simple concept, yet we forget and we just move through life in a fog, without even realizing it.

Lazy Cleo.

Lazy Cleo.

In fact, were I not paying attention, I wouldn’t have taken this lovely little portrait of Cleo off to the left. What you don’t know from looking at that serene little face, is that Cleo was in such a deep slumber, that two seconds after after I snapped this pic, she began to roll backwards, nearly falling off the arm of the sofa.

Lucky for her, I saw it coming and blocked the fall. It was a funny moment and one that is oft repeated in various areas of the house, when she’ll fall off the back of a chair or out of the kitchen window onto the floor and start loudly meowing in a state of total confusion.

I’m sort of rambling I suppose, but the point is that since I slowed down, simplified and started paying more attention, I’m enjoying everything a lot more. As you might imagine, I keep my budget for going out very low, because I want to promote more time spent at home cooking, reading, writing, making art and checking out art exhibits or local parks, instead of always reverting to the fun, but spendy habit of happy hour or dinner out. Then when I do go out for drinks or some such thing with friends, I really appreciate it.

In fact, I went for tea with a friend this week. We both wanted to try Path of Tea, a

Loose tea at Path of Tea on

Loose tea at Path of Tea on

place I discovered after he asked me for recommendations where to buy tea as a gift. Mistakenly, I thought it was a store, but to our happy surprise, it was also a tea house. So we slowed our roll and shared a pot of tea, which comes with the most delicious little almond coated cookies with a dollop of preserves in the middle.

He regaled me with stories of his youth spent in China, where despite being one of a handful of Americans, he enjoyed a sense of community and the friendliness born of having to live side-by-side with so very many people. The tea was exactly as he had remembered it, which was especially profound, because he had been disappointed by much of the tea he’d had until finding this establishment.

Later in the week, I was inspired to brake out a tea pot I got as a gift when I graduated from college. I settled on a pot of Earl Grey (with cookies, of course). This little break reminded of tea with my friend, as well the person who gifted me with the tea pot. She has sense departed, so I love that every time I use it, I think of her. While sipping and crunching away on my cookies, I made a mental note to incorporate tea time a few times per week at home.

This was a week steeped (yep, I just made that pun) in simplicity. It challenged me to stay grounded in the mission I set out on when I made that scary, but essential for me leap to freelance. In that spirit, I’ll leave you with a quote I read the other day that resonated with me. It’s by the buddhist monk, teacher and author Jack Kornfield:

“The capacity to be open to the new in each moment without seeking a false sense of security is the true source of strength and freedom in life.”

What are your simple pleasures?

 

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SPOILER ALERT: Downton Abbey sobfest

Costume dramas are by far my favorite genre of TV and film. This likely stems from my love of 18th and 19th Century Literature. I simply cannot get enough of it!

Obviously I’m a fiend for Masterpiece Theatre’s “Downton Abbey” and practically plan my entire Sunday around the one-hour show.

Like all other DA devotees, today I am in mourning over the loss of, as my fellow reporter and friend Andrew Dansby put it, “one of the most beautiful people in the history of TV.”

Lady Sybil’s death scene was the most heart- and gut-wrenching I’ve ever seen. I was sobbing so loud and for such a long time, I’m certain my neighbors think I lost a member of my own family. It wouldn’t surprise me to find a casserole on my doorstep after work tonight.

To the Downton writers and actors: Y’all. Brought. It. The reactions of astonishment, despair, helplessness and anger by the players amazed me. Dear God, I’m welling up again just writing about it! Jane Austen wouldn’t have so ruthlessly toyed with our emotions. Oh, the humanity of Julian Fellowes!

Perhaps it’s rather silly to be so affected by characters in a TV show, but holy wow, if you don’t feel something when you watch that episode, you are dead inside. Dead!

A nation of fans grieves today and for who knows how long. Rest in peace sweet, kind Lady Sybil.

(Chokes back sobs)

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Question: If I buy a drink for a friend, is he obligated to leave the tip?

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Today’s question surrounds cocktail etiquitte. The asker wants to know if when buying drinks for a friend, if the friend is obligated to offer up the tip. Also, if said friend doesn’t, does the buyer have the right to be annoyed?

We advise that while it would be a lovely gesture for the friend to offer the tip, he isn’t obligated to do it. If he doesn’t, it’s of course a free country, but it was a gift to buy the drink, so you are obligated to absorb the cost of the tip and keep your annoyance to yourself. After all, you knew that was part of it when you bought the round. No matter what though, a hearty thank you is required and cheers to the buyer’s health.

This conversation does have us thinking that from now on, we’ll at least offer up tip money when given the gift of a delicious adult beverage.

What do you think? To offer tip or not to offer tip?

Cheers!
M

Question: Do I have to go to my high school friend’s wedding?

Photo from FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Happy Tuesday! Last week during a small celebratory gathering at Houston’s hippest cocktail and caffeine purveyor, Double Trouble, a friend asked a pressing etiquette question: Do I have to go to my high school friend’s wedding?

Our friend tells us that after not seeing or hearing from her high school chum for years, an invitation arrived in the mail. Having recently bought a home, a plane ticket to a destination wedding for a long lost friend isn’t in her budget.

The easy solution: Send a lovely card with your regrets and a small, thoughtful, but budget conscious gift for the bride and groom. In your R.S.V.P., it’s not necessary to explain, a simple “I’m sorry I won’t be able to attend the wedding,” or “I have a prior commitment that day,” or similar will do.

Do you have an etiquette or style question? Email us at charmfinder@gmail.com.

Cheers!

M

 

Common courtesy makes you uncommon

Hello, readers. Today, let’s discuss common courtesy. It’s the little things that matter, such as listening, saying please and thank you and as we’ve said 8,352 times, essentially, just being kind. This is particularly important in business.

Yesterday, we read this blog post on Peter Shankman’s blog (he’s the social media entrepreneur/author/all around adventurous guy). The post is called, “Five things people don’t do — that you should,” and we agree 100 percent with everything on this list, not only for business, but for all areas of life.

Tips such as “pay attention,” and “know when to shut up” can go a long way and, as Shankman mentions, help you stand out from the crowd both professionally and personally, because frankly, most people don’t do either one.

If we only did those two things, imagine how much more people would want to be around us and work with us. Read the entire list, it’s good stuff.

Cheers!

M

Friday fun and frivolity, plus March Madness and sporting event etiquette

Happy Friday readers! Today is a good day for a little fun and relaxation to help ease into the weekend. First, let’s all take a moment to stop and smell the wildflowers:

 

Wildflowers!

 

Springtime in Texas is synonymous with wildflowers. We happened upon these while taking a walk in the neighborhood yesterday. We are not very good at identifying plant life, but we think this is Showy Evening Primrose or Oenothera speciosa.

Readers who know something about flowers, please feel free to weigh in or correct our guess.

What we do know is that we love wildflower season and will enjoy it while it lasts.

Next, we ran across something the other day that we think is not only a hoot, but also rather ingenious. The Garden & Gun Southern Food Bracket. Click here to see how your favorites foods and flavors fare during this entertaining (and hunger inducing) take on March Madness. We are pulling for pulled pork barbecue.

Regarding the real March Madness, for the record, the Re-find gang bleeds blue — Kentucky blue! The University of Kentucky Wildcats will battle it out against the Ohio State Buckeyes (it hurts to type that school’s name and mascot). We’ll do our best to be on our best behavior during the game and to practice good sportsmanship, but sporting event etiquette is a bit tricky, given smack talk is not only acceptable, but also expected. That said, always keep it friendly.

Have a great weekend and GO CATS!

Cheers!

 

Mr. Telephone Man: The new phone etiquette

Hello! Today, we’d like to discuss telephone etiquette. Who actually calls anyone these days, right? Which is why we feel a little refresher course is in order.

No calls after 10 p.m.

Recently, a reader told us the harrowing tale of 1:30 a.m. call from a hammered merrymaking friend. During the work week. No, it was not, as she worried, an emergency, which we both agreed is the only time adult humans should call one another at 1:30 a.m. Otherwise, consider the “cutoff” 10 p.m. for the childfree and 9 p.m. for parents, unless you literally just left that person after cocktails, dancing or some other event or you’ve been told specifically by the other party that calling later is A-OK. (Enjoy this clip from “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” where Larry thinks the “cutoff” is 10:30 p.m. and he gets a lesson from Julia Louis-Dreyfus).

This morning, we received a lovely text message at approximately 7 a.m. (CST) from a much-loved family member in the Eastern timezone, where — if you don’t want to do the math — it was around 8 a.m. Normally, we’d be against any form of communication at this hour, but we’ll give him a hall pass, because he knows what time the Re-find gang gets movin’ in the  mornin’. Typically, one should refrain from calling until after 9 p.m. in the timezone of the other party.

Please note that the same rules apply for texting, because many people keep cell phones near the bed for reasons we can’t fathom, other than perhaps they don’t own an alarm clock.

Additional things to note:

When you call, ask “Is this a good time?”

If you are the caller, it is up to you to end the call in a timely fashion. The recipient is at your mercy, don’t make it awkward for him or her.

Try “setting an appointment” first, so that you can ensure that it’s a good time to chat and that the person isn’t caught off guard, because quite frankly, the telephone is an interruption, no matter how cute the ringtone.

Speaking of ringtones, go with the least annoying type and keep it on a low volume. Don’t be “that person.”

Speaking of “that person” don’t have private conversations in public, where others can overhear; don’t talk loud, you aren’t that important, even if you are that important; don’t talk or text or FB or anything involving your phone at the dinner table or when you are supposed to be socializing with the people in front of you.

And breathe.

If you want to read more about phone culture, read this fun story from the New York Times, “Don’t call me, I won’t call you.”

What’s your biggest phone etiquette pet peeve?

On that note, have a great day! We’ll call you later.

Cheers!

Q: Do I give a hostess gift at dinner out?

Hello readers and happy Wednesday!

Recently, a reader asked if, when meeting her boyfriend’s parents for the first time, she should give a hostess gift at dinner out or wait until the dinner party moved back to their home.

In this situation, it’s appropriate to wait until going home, because unless the gathering is, for example, a birthday or anniversary celebration one wouldn’t bring a gift to a restaurant dinner.

Next, we brainstormed on a few hostess gift ideas for the return to the parent’s house. Here’s a list that will work not only in this situation, but any time you need to bring a gift. We recommend keeping a few of these items on hand for last-minute or “emergency” giving.

A host or hostess gift is a simple gesture of thanks in advance. A bottle of wine is a fast and easy classic, but if your hosts are teetotalers or you are feeling creative, consider the following simple and thoughtful gifts.

For her we recommend “fancy” guest soaps (we love Anthropologie for these, but one can find lovely soaps at nearly every department store, gift shop, drug store and sometimes even at the supermarket).

Most of us can never have too many tea towels or linen napkins. We found these cute little numbers at the Girlscantell shop on Etsy.com:

Coffee lover flour sack tea towels, $20 for set of two, image courtesy Girlscantell

For him, you might need to get a little craftier, so we decided that a single-handed salt and pepper mill might do the trick. Or a professional corkscrew with foil cutter, which we found at Sharper Image for $39.95.

A tasty item that anyone would love is Bella Cucina Walnut Sage and Pumpkin Spice pesto, $12:

Image courtesy Bella Cucina

The Bella Cucina olive oil is also divine. We love all things lavender and Becker Vineyards in Stonewall, Texas has it. Get lavender bouquets, room spray, body scrub, soap and everything else you can imagine made out of the fragrant purple flower at 830-664-2681 or www.beckervineyards.com.

Finally, a shameless plug for Re-find’s new gift shop. Click here to learn more about the Store. Today, we’re featuring the Le Cafe notecards, because you may just want to send a thank you card to the host and hostess after the lovely dinner out or at their home.

Le Cafe mug and notecards

With these gifts (and a thank you note), you’ll be invited back in no time.

Cheers!

Gossip girls

We have a confession to make to you today kind readers. We are absolutely the worst gossips on the planet here at Re-find. We aren’t proud of it, but alas it’s true. Thankfully, our affliction doesn’t cross over to telling things told to us in confidence, so your secret truly is safe with us. But we love to dish with friends about celebs and — we’re so sorry — regular folks in our orbit. Why are we confessing it? Because we are resolving to stop so much darned gossiping in 2011.

"Gossip" by Norman Rockwell

We blame it on being a reporter, but we know that’s just a convenient excuse. Gossip at its best is frivolous and at its worst, unkind and you know how much we dislike unkindness. That said, we came across this really funny quote about gossip while preparing for this blog entry:

“It’s perfectly monstrous the way people go about nowadays saying things against one, behind one’s back, that are absolutely and entirely true,” Oscar Wilde

We are shaking our heads at ourselves as we type!

Interestingly, studies over the past five years have yielded interesting results, such as that men gossip more than women and that gossip is only about 5 percent malicious, which you can read more about in a 2009 article from the N.Y. Daily News.

Are you a gossip? Would you, could you give it up? We promise, we won’t tell anyone.

Cheers!

M


Simple pleasures: Tele-date

Happy Thursday everyone. Today, we’re thinking about friends and family in far away places and how we might resolve to connect more with them in 2011. One idea we borrowed from a friend in Cincinnati is the tele-date (or tele-happy hour, as it were).

The tele-date is when you set a date and time to chat on the phone, but instead of just chatting, you plan to enjoy a beer, glass (or two) of wine or your favorite cocktail or a cup of coffee or some other beverage during the call.

Exhibit A:

Tele-happy hour wine

Exhibit B:

Tele-coffee

For some reason, the miles just melt away when you treat it more like a happy hour or a coffee date. It’s truly a simple pleasure.

How do you stay connected with loved ones? Do you have a favorite simple pleasure you’d like to share?

Cheers!

M