Come browse my monthly blog-style posts to see the inspiration behind my heart for hospitality and the resulting Old Southern Charm party products.
APRIL 2018: HOSPITALITY INSPIRATION: Being There In The Hard Times
Did you have a chance to watch Barbara Bush’s gorgeous funeral? Living in Houston, her service was the buzz of the weekend and well deserved. Barbara was a legend: confident in who she was, supportive of loved ones, unyielding in her beliefs, gracious under pressure. The embodiment of a feminist icon, without ever having to declare her title. A true “Steel Magnolia”. Barbara’s strength was undeniable, yet she didn’t necessarily have an “easy” path. The cartoon image that went viral of the reunion of Barbara and her three year old daughter, Robin, at the Pearly Gates, struck so many hearts this week. I believe its impact stems from the question: HOW DOES SOMEONE KEEP GOING AFTER THAT? We’ve all heard tragic stories and gone through them ourselves. I can’t give you Barb’s answer to this question, but I can humbly attempt mine. This year we lost our daughter the day after she was born. The details are impossibly hard to sum up here, but hopefully the heartache transcends the need for a description. It was (and still is) the worst. So what can you/we do as friends to help those around us who are going through tough times? Here are my 3 “Tried and True” Tips:
One of the first thing people text/write/email during times of grief is “Let us know if we can do anything for you.” Have you ever heard back from someone that you’ve said this to? I haven’t. Being on the receiving end of this question puts you in a difficult position too… “YES, I need help! I literally can’t function right now; never mind make dinner for my husband, 2 year old, and 8 family members camping out at our house!” (Side note: not every situation is as extreme as ours, but hopefully you get the picture…) Trust me, just go visit your friend. See what they need in person. I didn’t exactly know what tangible items I needed, but I do now: I needed them. I needed my friends and closest family to love on me, share their strength and remind me to eat. Which leads me to…
I think this is something that Southerners really get right. We know how to share food and commune together wholeheartedly. Your grieving friend may end up with multiples of food and that is OK! (It’s actually amazing how much food guests of grieving people eat (nervous energy?) so just go into the whole process thinking ‘this will be shared by many!’) Whatever you bring, however much you bring, to whomever you bring it: food is always comforting. I love what Alan Wolfett, author of The Journey of Grief says, “Food is symbolic of love when words are inadequate.”
Helpful ideas: 1) Bring a Breakfast Basket: Muffins, Pastries, Precut Fruit, Orange Juice. 2) Casseroles ready to eat or freeze (preferably in a disposable tray. It’s really challenging to remember whose dish was, especially during emotionally difficult times). 3) Pick-up food from their spouse/caretaker/children’s favorite restaurant. It’ll make their day too.
While the initial outpouring of love during difficult times is absolutely wonderful (and completely necessary), it’s just as important to check back in later. It gets quiet QUICK. Here are some easy ideas to show your loved ones you’re still thinking about them: A) Put the DOH (Date of heartbreak) in your calendar and mark it again one year later. Acknowledging the DOH anniversary is enormously helpful and can make the experience less isolating. B) Books! One of the best care packages I received included Max Lucado’s You’ll Get Through This. I didn’t read it right away, but wow, did it help 4 months down the road! Please note: Old Southern Charm’s Etsy Shop is now carrying book care packages to spread this love with others. If there has been a book that has helped you through a difficult time, please email me! I’d love to carry it. C) Don’t be afraid to send a card later down the road and directly mention the heartbreak. There’s no need to allude to the incident with an ambiguous “I’m thinking of you”. It’s OK to say “I’m thinking of you and know you’re missing Sam. We all are. Sending big hugs your way!”. Personalization always goes the extra mile.
Grieving with others can often be awkward, emotional, and frankly, hard on you. It’s not easy, but I promise: your friend will never forget the kindness shown during their difficult time. I know Barbara Bush didn’t forget and I can’t help but think the pillar of strength she became grew directly out of the pain of losing a child. She is quoted saying “At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a friend, a child, or a parent.” So go be with your friends. And don’t forget to be just as present in the hard times too. Rest In Peace, dear Bar.
March 2017: HOSPITALITY INSPIRATION: Wanna Wabi Sabi?
I’ve been on a quest lately to accept imperfection. As an artist, I’m constantly battling my inner perfectionism. It’s my career to make things aesthetically pleasing, yet most of the time my personal life can’t stand up to the pressure. Do you ever feel that way? The voice may start small: “This house is a wreck! We’re never going to host a dinner party again”, but soon a larger cultural pressure chimes in saying “your parties will never look like the ones on social media”. Gosh dang it, Pinterest!
So where do we find balance? Is it still possible to host people at your home and have fun doing it? I believe the answer is yes, but with a caveat: keep your perspective in check. I️ came across an article this week with a built-in “ah ha” moment. The article discussed the Japanese lifestyle mantra “Wabi Sabi”. It’s like Feng Shui-ing your mindset. Created in the 15th Century, early practitioners reminded people to simplify and embrace the imperfect. Robyn Griggs Lawrence, Editor of Natural Home magazine describes this difficult-to-translate state of mind like this:
Wabi-Sabi is everything that today’s sleek, mass-produced, technology-saturated culture isn’t. It’s flea markets, not shopping malls; aged wood, not swank floor coverings; one single morning glory, not a dozen red roses… It celebrates cracks and crevices and rot and all the other marks that time and weather and use leave behind. To discover wabi-sabi is to see the singular beauty in something that may first look decrepit and ugly.
Woah. Well, I may have baby toys everywhere, but at least my dining room isn’t decrepit and ugly!! I think a Wabi Sabi mindset would counter: “so what if it is?” Similarly, to fully embrace the art of hospitality, one must be ready to be vulnerable, with yourself and with your home. The perceived shortcomings may ultimately be what makes the party a great one. A well lived-in home for example ALWAYS puts me at ease when I arrive somewhere new. (Inner monologue: “oh good! I can stop pretending I don’t have a gigantic mail pile too!) The more you host, the more you can reciprocate that back to your guests too. When I started hosting again after having a baby, I ultimately had to make the decision, do I want to apologize for the mess every time this person comes over or do I just want to be myself? Take it or leave it, this is who I am. (Or maybe more mildly – “This is the real test of our friendship – I hope our messiness doesn’t run you away!”) The decision to be true to myself (and embrace a Wabi-Sabi way of life) has served me far better than being “Pinterest Ready” ever could. I have a close, understanding group of friends who know the true me and find beauty in my imperfection. I would call that southern hospitality success.
February 2018: Let’s Take A Walk Around The Neighborhood: Southern Exteriors
Last month, we discussed the iconic southern front porch. For all its grandeur, when you pan the lens out a few feet, a home’s porch is simply an accessory. Southern residential architecture is an art form. It’s one of the region’s greatest prides and comes in many shapes and sizes. From grand mansions to chic cottages. There’s a home to fit every personality and price range.
There are many stylistic muses for Southern architecture: Neoclassical, Federal, French Colonial, Greek Revival, and the list goes on. For all the inspirational differences, I have found a few commonalities that run strong. First and foremost, they are always welcoming. Southern homes deliberately draw you in. Whether your curiosity peaks from their intricate details or the glimpses of décor seen through the floor-to-ceiling windows, Southern exteriors greet guests before the hostess even opens the door.
Secondly, they’re ready for the weather. Hot summers and active hurricane seasons are part of southern life. We know they’re coming, it’s just a matter of when. Southern homes are often elevated, with windows that open easily and multiple fans at the ready. Those classic “plantation” shutters aren’t just aesthetically pleasing either. They were created for function: Closing out the wind and the rain, while simultaneously letting the air flow. Did you know that these shutters were originally made in Greece? First made out of marble, the shutters transitioned to a wooden construction and their popularity skyrocketed in France’s 18th Century.
Finally, Southern homes are stylish. It’s all in the details. What draws me to southern architecture is their historical nod to style with a modern twist. Would you be surprised to see classic white columns across from a hot pink front door? Me neither and that’s what makes living in the south so fun! The region’s attention to house design began as far back as the 18th century. There was a great respect for European architectural styles stemming from the South’s large population of English, Irish, and French immigrants. The elegant, original details of these Neoclassical, Greek Revival, Federal and Georgian designs are still seen today. In a quintessential American move, however, southerners have adapted these architectural designs to make them individualized. Additional styles continue to be added throughout the years as well, such as Spanish and Creole inspired construction. This diversity continues to beautify the architectural landscape and makes Southern Exteriors that much more sought after. Architectural Digest top designer Thomas Jayne sums up the juxtaposition of new and old saying: “Tradition always has to be updated and pushed forward. After all, you wouldn’t send a debutante to her 80th birthday party wearing her original dress.” Although that might be a funny tradition to start…ha!
Southern homes inspire hospitality. They are welcoming, prepared, and stylish. To continue the discussion and see some of my favorite houses, please visit Old Southern Charm’s “Southern Exteriors” board on Pinterest. Thanks for stopping by!
Credits: Photo @instagranna , research: elledecor.com, theplantationshutterco.com, southernliving.comA
January 2018: HOSPITALITY INSIGHTS: Here’s To More Front Porch Sitting
I came across a great article over the holidays called “Why Northerners Will Never Get Southern Hospitality”. The title alone captured my attention and made me chuckle, but the heart of the material gave me genuine pause in the midst of the Christmas chaos. Author Roy Blount, Jr. writes:
“Before air-conditioning, climate was a factor [to hospitality]. In the South, people were more likely to be sitting on the porch when folks [walked by]. You couldn’t pretend not to be home when there you were, sitting on [your] porch. You could pretend to be dead, but then you couldn’t fan yourself.”
Oh the irony! But seriously, how do we get back to this? No, not the pretending to be dead part. The part where our culture had the time, energy, and good manners to make neighbors feel welcome. Hospitality has an innate selflessness about it. The act of cooking for others, serving a drink, and chit-chatting on the porch personify human emotions. Being hospitable tells your guests “you matter more to me in this moment than anything else.” (Note to self: resist the urge to check your cellphone!) Above all else, the art of hospitality teaches a simple lesson: other people come first. I’m looking forward to carrying that mantra into the new year.
Roy Blout’s full article can be found here: https://www.rd.com/funny-stuff/southern-hospitality/
January 2018: TIPS AND TIDBITS: Make New Friends: Listen and L.A.U.G.H.
So you’ve found new friends “on the front porch” or crossing paths in your everyday life. Now what? Southerners are stereotypically good at starting conversations. It’s in our genes to be friendly. But if you struggle to get past social graces and talking about the weather, try this tip: Listen and L.A.U.G.H.
L – Listen (Yes, this is repetitive on purpose)
- Active listening connects you more to someone than anything else. Do you know the difference is listening versus active listening? The latter wholeheartedly engages in listening during the one-way conversation (insert head nod). Regular listening means you have physically stopped talking, but you’re mentally creating your grocery list or thinking about what you’re going to do this weekend. Try your hand at active listening next time you’re having a conversation. It’s harder than you’d think!
A – Affirm
- Provide words of affirmation to show that you’re hearing your new friend and actively listening. Have you read Gary Chapman’s The 5 Love Languages ? If you haven’t, it’s great and it really helps you understand how people connect. Words of Affirmation are HUGE. Don’t forget head nods, “uh huhs”, smiles, and laughs too. It’s the little things in life!
U – Understand Where This Person Is Coming From
- Ok, this “Tips and Tidbits” article has included a LOT of advice about making other people feel special. But, heck, you’re part of this conversation right?! Don’t sell yourself short in all of this listening and affirming. You have had unique life experiences that can help and support others. The conversation is (hopefully) leading to something you can share about yourself. If you’ve never experienced what your soon-to-be friend is talking about, that’s ok too. Simply trying to sympathize with where they’re coming from goes a long way too. Remember to ask questions that show you’re interested and willing to understand what is being discussed!
G – Be Genuine
- You’ve worked so hard at being an active listener. Now here’s the test. Does your authentic self still fit in with the conversation? Interject where you see fit. If you’ve been truly engaged for a few minutes and either have no clue what they’re talking about or don’t see how you can help/support your new friend, it may be time to change the subject. Finding commonalities is the BEST part of a budding friendship. Keep working at it and hopefully your interests will click.
H – Hug It Out
- This sounds crazy, you’ve just met this person! But, ya’ll. There is something about getting a hug that connects you to people! I came across the “Happyologist” recently. Susanna is a fun, upbeat blogger that I’d love to have a Listen & L.A.U.G.H. conversation with. She wrote a great article about hugs and their health benefits:
- It lowers your blood pressure, especially if you’re feeling anxious
- It lowers cortisol, the stress hormone
- It can increase your social connections and sense of belonging
Sounds pretty good right? So try these tips in your own encounters and see where they may lead. Hopefully straight to a new, reciprocated friendship, but if not, engaging in a little Listen & L.A.U.G.H. will only strengthen your existing friendships too.