Wednesday, July 23, 2008

change of plans

It rained all day today. We did very little that we intended to do, and that includes blogging about etiquette books. Instead, we watched three movies: The Queen (with Helen Mirren, fabulous), The King and I (with Yul Brenner, also fabulous), and finally, Monsters, Inc. (love Billy Crystal).

We also went bowling and to the library. As a result of all this laying about, my house is untidy in a fun and friendly way, and Little feels like this:
Goofy? Exhausted? Absurd? You decide.

Tomorrow, I bring you a fascinating etiquette book written by none other than Eleanor Roosevelt.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

etiquette week, day two

We jump ahead almost 70 years with today's post, with a book published in 1952: Amy Vanderbilt's Everyday Etiquette: Answers to Today's Questions. I think I got this at a thrift store. Times have changed since 1887, and the book is clearly commenting on a world we would see as similar to ours: there are sections on Business Etiquette, and Divorce, Separation, and Widowhood. It is still quaintly out of date, however. Here's a question and answer about dining in a restaurant:

Recently, when four of us were dining out--two married couples--one of the husbands left the table for a few minutes. The remaining husband, left with his wife and the wife of the other, lit the cigarette first of his friend's wife, then of his own. His wife felt that as her escort he should have lit her cigarette first. Which is correct? (asked by Mrs. R. L. V., Columbus, Ohio)

As one woman was left alone, the husband and wife remaining are, in effect, her host and hostess for the moment. Therefore it was correct for the remaining husband to light the guest's cigarette first, then his wife's.

Can you imagine getting your panties in a twist over your husband lighting someone else's cigarette first? Although the person who wrote in for guidance carefully leaves her own identity vague, you know it must be the wife of the guy who lit her friend's cigarette first. For that matter, can you imagine smoking in a restaurant at all? Thankfully, no.

Or how about this alarming piece:

When I get taken to a nice restaurant by a date I never quite know what's expected of me once we get inside the door. I feel so lost when my date goes to check his hat. I don't know where to stand, and I don't know whether to go with the headwaiter or waitress if they arrive before my date does from the checkroom. Can you give me explicit advice on this subject? (asked by J. O. L., Jefferson City, Missouri)

Your feeling of helplessness can be a great social asset in this instance. Just allow your date to take full charge. He probably feels just as unsure as you do, but you mustn't let him know that you know it. If he doesn't escort you out of the line of traffic at the entrance while he checks his hat, you step out of it yourself although you don't follow him. You wait quietly without seeming too interested in your surroundings until he rejoins you, then together you approach the entrance to the dining room. There if the headwaiter or hostess steps forward, your escort should step back and let you follow the individual who is to direct you to your table. If no one does step forward to guide you, then your escort steps in front of you and you follow along until he has found a table and pulled out a chair for you. You allow him to seat you.

Right. Helplessness as a social asset. Moving right along, let's end with this sweet lovely vignette:

Should a man remove his hat to kiss a lady? (asked by B. R. J., Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania)

A man kissing a lady on the street--in greeting or farewell (only)--should always remove his hat, no matter what the weather. He should be careful concerning this courtesy even--or perhaps I should say especially--with his wife or daughter.

Monday, July 21, 2008

one of my stranger collections

You'd probably never guess it if you met me, and you'd almost certainly never guess it based on what I think about (and therefore blog about) most of the time, but we are both collectors. We collect amusingly retro drinking glasses, vintage blown-glass lab ware, vintage sewing machines, English tea tins, and probably some other things I'm not thinking of right now.

This week, I'd like to spend some time exploring one of my stranger but most satisfying collections: etiquette books. I don't use them as reference books for conducting my personal life, but I have found that reading them calms me right down in difficult times. I don't necessarily always follow the advice in these books, but the notion that there is a manual, a list of rules for conducting one's relationships, is extremely reassuring to me. I have five different etiquette books, published between 1887 and 1997, and I'll write about one each day this week, starting with the oldest.

Today's book is Decorum: A Practical Treatise on Etiquette and Dress of the Best American Society. It was published in 1887, and I found it in a free box. It is the gem of my collection.
The advice (or really, instructions) in this book are completely out of date, as you might expect. Reading it is endlessly amusing: it is so easy to see how very far we have come. Women and men both have so many freedoms now that would have been scandalous just over 100 years ago. We live in a much more casual society.

For example:

Leaving a Ball Room
Married or young ladies, cannot leave a ball-room, or any other party, alone. The former should be accompanied by one or two other married ladies, and the latter by their mother, or by a lady to represent her.

(all commas and hyphens, etc, are in the original text.)

Or how about this, which is actually germane to my life at the moment, and probably good advice:

Discontinuing Work
If a lady is engaged with her needle when a visitor arrives, she ought to discontinue her work, unless requested to do otherwise, and not even then must it be resumed, unless on very intimate terms with her acquaintance. When this, however, is the case, the hostess may herself request permission to do so. To continue working during a visit of ceremony would be extremely discourteous, and we cannot avoid hinting to our lady readers, that even when a particular friend is present for only a short time, it is somewhat inconsistent with etiquette to keep their eyes fixed on a crochet or knitting-book, apparently engaged in counting stitches, or unfolding the intricacies of a pattern. We have seen this done, and are, therefore, careful to warn them on the subject. There are many kinds of light and elegant, and even useful work, which do not require close attention, and may be profitably pursued; and such we recommend to be always on the work-table at those hours which, according to established practice, are given to social intercourse.

But this, my friends, is out of hand, so much so that I can hardly make sense of it:

Laying Aside the Bonnet
The short time devoted to a ceremonious visit, the necessity of consulting a glass in replacing the headdress, and of being assisted in putting on the shawl, prevent ladies from accepting the invitation to lay them aside. If they are slightly familiar with the person they are visiting and wish to be more at ease, they should ask permission, which should be granted them, at the same time rising, to assist them in taking off their hat and shawl. An arm-chair, or a piece of furniture at a distant part of the room, should receive these articles; they should not be placed upon the couch, without the mistress of the house puts them there.

On the other hand, doesn't it seem lovely, in a way, to have so many minute instructions for conducting one's self? If one just follows all the rules, one will never step on any toes, never offend. One would never be wrong, in a sense. I'm glad we don't live in this world any longer, but I do see the appeal.

Friday, July 18, 2008

today's project

The gardens were sadly neglected while we were away. I came back to lots of weeds and many dead plants. We're not getting much rain. The front garden, which is the first one I planted, has also become overgrown and messy. I didn't know the plants were going to need more room as they get older! Here's how it's been looking:
The yarrow has taken over, and not in a pretty way. It's all sprawly, and messy, and I just don't like it anymore. It's crowding the liatris, which has just about given up:
So I spent a couple of hours rearranging things. Lots of stuff came out: the yarrow, a couple of ornamental alliums, two pretty but prickly thistles, and many weeds.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

first ever spinning FO

These are my new socks, finished while we were away at the beach, knit from handspun 3-ply blue-faced Leicester. The leg and instep are a simple k2 p2 rib. The yarn turned out much fatter than most sock yarn I use, so I knit these on 1s with 56 stitches around.

It was an interesting experience, knitting with my handspun. I fretted from time to time over the unevenness of the yarn, but it knitted up just fine. I didn't do any reinforcing with nylon or anything else, just tried to ply it relatively firmly, hoping that would lend some strength. It will be interesting to see how these hold up.

I'm not much of a pink person, but I have been consciously seeking out pinks I can tolerate over the last year or so. I think these will be quite wearable.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

any ideas?

I go back and forth on how useful I think behavior charts are, and I am now swinging back into useful at times territory. Little is having a hard time using words instead of hitting, kicking, and throwing his stuff around. Given that he's well beyond toddlerhood, I think he can do better. Talking (and talking and talking) isn't working. Time outs aren't working (although they do remove his unpleasant presence from my space, so they're useful for that).

He's been begging for a behavior chart. I really don't like them, and I have told him so, and why. (I want him to learn to control his behavior because he wants to get along with me and the rest of the family. I want him to appreciate the intrinsic rewards of good behavior, etc. I'm sure it sounds like blah blah blah blah blah to him.)

So I caved, and I wrote up a behavior chart for him today. It has five goals on it, two of which he can do all the time, no problem, and one of which he can do most of the time. The other two are the hard ones, and the "real" goals. I really believe it's important to set kids up for success with these things.

Anyway, last time we did this, his reward (collected at the end of each day that went well) was an Oreo. I know, I know. Really bad (unless you're trying to create a kid with an eating disorder, in which case, be my guest). I really don't want to reward him with food this time. I also don't want to give him some kind of little toy at the end of the week. Ideally, I want to find something that doesn't cost any money, but is enough of a treat to get his attention.

So... experienced teachers and parents, what do you think? I'm looking for a weekly reward, rather than a daily one, and it can't be food, and it can't cost anything.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

back from the beach

My mom and I have what has become an annual tradition of taking the kids to a rented beach house on the Jersey shore. We're back now, and my mind has shifted from the big concerns of a beach vacation: Is today a beach day? Will tomorrow be a beach day? (I decided they all were, unless it rained, and it didn't. Much.) Will we make it to the end of the week without going to the laundromat? (We did, although now I have a lot of laundry to do.) Will I have enough yarn to finish these socks? (No.) And, will it be the Tilt-a-Whirl or the Ferris Wheel tonight? (It was mostly the Tilt-a-Whirl.)

I've given my last post and the response it generated a lot of thought. (You know, in between playing frisbee and watching the surfers.) Just to reassure all of you who are my friends IRL, and who have expressed concern for my marriage and my/our feminism: yes, darlings, of course Joe and even the kids do all kinds of things every day, to help me, to contribute to our household and my peace. It was rhetoric, written in a hurry on a day when I was overwhelmed. It happens. Part of me wants to say SHEESH people, don't you know a rant when you read one? It was a VENT, not a position paper.

But I think I really was trying to say something, unbalanced though it was. So I will try again.

It turns out that holding all of this together is a lot of work. Being a SAHM is challenging, and part of the challenge seems to be that nobody (including myself) expects it to be particularly challenging. How hard could it be, really? You keep doing everything working parents do, but you have the major bonus of NO JOB. Or, for those of us who are freelancing in one way or another, no job that expects you to show up at a particular time. Your time is your own, to schedule as you choose.

There's the problem. Scheduling. There is a lot to do. You've got to get the grocery shopping done, the house clean to whatever standard you have chosen, the children clean and fed. Then there's the homeschooling, which (like every other job worth doing) can take as much time as you choose to give it. It's not like you're ever 'done.' Add to all that an old house with projects that never seem to get completed, and then throw in an avid interest in reading or sewing or knitting or spinning.... poof, your days are full.

Now, tell me what it is you do to feed yourself. Everyone agrees that it is necessary for mothers, working or not, to take care of themselves, right? And for me, personally, it doesn't count as 'me time' unless my children are elsewhere, out of earshot and being taken care of by someone else.

So... what's it going to be?

You need a walk every day? A half hour of yoga? Meditation, tennis? Great, when are you going to do it? There's no money for a babysitter (you don't have a job, remember) so you've got do it when there's another parent at home. At 6:30 in the morning, before your husband leaves for work? After dinner every day, when you're already bone tired from the aforementioned never-ending list?

Do you see how sometimes, some days, it can be just a pain the ass to get that so-called 'me time?' How some days you're just going to blow it off and sit on the couch, or (more likely) get another load of laundry done or go out and weed the garden instead? Some days, it's just one more thing to put on the list, and since the list is endless anyway, why add another thing to it?

And yes, I can see that this doesn't make sense, that the most important thing is to take care of myself, before the laundry, before the weeding, before the damn dishes. But the reality is that it doesn't always happen that way, and on the days when I can't fit it in, the expectation that I find time to take care of myself feels like just another place for me to fall short.