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10 Ways to Live a Beautiful Life + My Mom + Alexandra Stoddard + 70’s in Carmel Valley

Carol
Mom in Portland. Tres Chic, No?

I feel sad when I hear women talk about their often difficult and sometimes harrowing relationships with their Mothers.  As a coach who works with weight and self-esteem issues in grown women, I often hear about this.  

 I’m fortunate in this way. My Mom and I have always been joined at the hip, comrades.  We have a common trait where we both get into things that intrigue us, in this one-tracked, full speed, watch out sister, way.  

It has its fabulous, and not always so fabulous side effects, but generally, it’s how we keep life fun and interesting.  

When I was in the 3rd grade, we moved from Portland, Oregon, to my Mother’s beloved native state of California to a remote area of Carmel Valley.

In Portland, we had lived on “Pill Hill,” and there were loads of big Catholic doctor’s families a stone’s throw away from our house.  

I could knock on a door and find kids to play with anytime, and I was used to that.  

Portland Rose Garden with Peter Stoyanov
Smarty Pants & Jazzy Pants with Peter Stoyanov – Portland Rose Garden

When we moved to Carmel Valley, I had to begin to learn how to creatively occupy myself.  I recall one day lounging around the house with no real purpose or enthusiasm, trying to figure out what the framed poster in my bedroom meant:

Well, OBVIOUSLY!
Well, Obviously…..

  Carly Simon was playing on the 8-track, while my Mom was reading a book in a big cozy chair by the window when I circled around her a few times and declared:

“I AM BORED!”

To which my Mom quietly replied:

“Only boring people get bored.”

I stood there slightly stunned for a moment, thinking: I am NOT boring!  

Then I remembered a big pile of scrap lumber I’d seen the day before up over the canyon where a new home was being built. So I eagerly scampered out the door and a few miles up the hill and began to drag lumber from the canyon, through the sagebrush and oak trees to a ravine below our house to build my very own tiny little Chick Pad.  Which is something I still love to do.

Mind you, back then, we had diamond-back rattlesnakes, ticks, and all kinds of critters combing the same unspoiled territory.

YIKES!
YIKES!

I seriously doubt that most kid micro-managing helicopter Moms these days would allow something like that!  

But I survived.

When I did come across a rattler one day, I went hauling a$$ up the hill and found my neighbor’s enigmatic boyfriend, Hans Wolfe (complete with a permanent black eye patch!).  He promptly got his rifle, shot the thing, and flung it over a huge oak tree branch. BooYah! 

Wild and Colorful Times.

Carmel Valley Party Style
Carmel Valley Party Style
Mom & Sexy Sara Farr
Cowgirl Mom with Fabulous, Sara Farr
Lovely Friends: Sweet Johnathan Storm
Lovely Friends: Sweet John Storm
Beautiful Cousin: Pamela Stevend
Dad’s Beautiful + Talented Niece: Pamela Stevens
Things Were Looking Up Once I Got My Stingray & Tennis Hat
Once I Got My Sting Ray Bike, Tennis Hat, and Super Fast Adidas, Things Were Looking Up

 When I wasn’t building houses, Mom and I lived to devour books and share new ideas.  We got completely immersed in subjects on just about every alternative health, fashion, and beauty fad, as well as the classics. We avidly sought out authors such as  Paavo Airola, Edward Espe Brown of Tassahara, Frances Moore Lappe, M.F.K Fisher, Steinbeck,  Bronte Chica’s, Jim Fixx, and Julia Child – who my Dad does a killer imitation of…..to name a few. 

One day after nearly passing out in the book store while on the trendy Starvesdale Diet, I came across a book by Alexandra Stoddard called Living a Beautiful Life.

Immediately, I was (and still am) smitten and deeply inspired by what she had to say.  I felt that I’d found my soul sister and non-boring other Mom,

well, except for; Bonnie Blackaller, Jean Stoyanov, Sarah Farr, Donna Walden, Nancy Porter, Marge Thornburg, Leslie Snorf, Jody Muir, Mary Hatton,  Jan Gardner, and Karin Holdridge-Zofcin, and last but not at all least: My Auntie Lolo who..well..check her out:  but that is a whole other, “It takes a Village” story. B.T.W. Lolo is where I get my activist side.

Anyhow…….

FINALLY, I could get into something that was creative AND mostly calorie-free!

So off I went to share the great news with mi Madre, who was beginning to suffer fashion exhaustion from trying to keep up with the swatch coding details in Color Me Beautiful. Seems that she was an Autumn, and I was a Winterwho wanted to be an Autumn (OR Carly Simon– and we were both wearing a hell-of-a-lotta dark, waxy lipstick.

Truth is, neither of us is suited to much daily fashion fuss.  

At any rate, she was ready for a few changes, and with Alexandra’s sublime design & lifestyle guidance, change we did!  

Alex is a true and Classic Guru if I ever met one.  Although I imagine she’d absolutely cringe at being referred to that way. Check out this video!

Ciao Alexandra…

So let’s get on with it!

Here are 5 main things I learned from Alexandra and others that I still practice to bring intention, beauty & JOY into my life. AND 5 things my elegant Mother shared about creating HER beautiful life:

So here are Mom’s thoughts on the subject:

I have been thinking about Alexandra Stoddard’s Living a Beautiful Life. That book spoke to my heart from the first time I read it. It confirmed to me that the way I wanted to live my life was all right.

1. Puttering:

I could walk through my house in the morning just looking at tabletops…seeing the arrangement on them as if they were a still life painting, as my lifelong friend Nancy Porter once said.

2. Presentation:

I could drink my morning coffee out of my prettiest china cup on a silver tray with a beautiful napkin.

3. Candles:

Light candles on the dinner table every night. Our grandsons remarked about that ritual after staying with us.

4. Simplify: 

I later discovered the book Simplify Your Life by Elaine St. James, and that has been another great help for me. Her first suggestion: “Reduce the clutter in your life.” is basic. When I sold real estate, I decided that most houses just have too many things in them. The clutter gets in the way of the essential. Dad and I discovered a poem that describes it beautifully years ago before any of you were born:

“Let your boat of life be light, packed with only what you need—a homey home and simple pleasures, one or two friends worth the name, someone to love and someone to love you, a cat, a dog, and a pipe or two, enough to eat and enough to wear, and a little more than enough to drink, for thirst is a dangerous thing.” —Jerome Klapka Jerome

5. Live your life like a poet: I learned about looking at the world as an artist in an oil painting course at Stanford from Professor Mendelowitz, who changed my world. But I have only recently been inspired to write poems in the last few years. Painting is a visual art.. .and poetry is too but it is also about all of the other senses. Creating poems awakens your soul to the experience of life.

Thank you, Mom.  You are my favorite Mother and teacher.  Even if you are an Autumn….

And now my 5

6. Rituals:

Morning Lemon Water, Tea & Monkey-Mind Meditation:

Having daily rituals has helped me to stay both grounded and agile in my personal life and in my coaching practice.  There was a time when I started my day by reading emails.  What I found is that by reading and answering all my emails, first thing, I was actually in reaction mode and in some ways, letting others dictate how my day would unfold.  Now I begin my day with a cup of warm lemon water at around 5:30 A.M., followed by tea. Then I sit outside for 10-20 minutes of meditation.  I can’t begin to tell you how much more calmly energized and focused I feel when I start my day this way.  There is a huge difference in my productivity and minute-by-minute clarity around how I spend my hours.  It’s like I have this new filter after morning stillness that helps me stay more organized while recognizing tasks and situations that are truly important to what really matters to me.

Meditation is the Zen way of manifesting our deepest intentions. And when we are working from that place, things are just more Serendipitous

NOTE: I am NOT the best meditator;).  Truth be told, my monkey mind is often all over the place. But I don’t worry about it.  I just do it.  And most often, it’s guided, and my favorite one is here.

7. Creating something Special out of the Ordinary:

This is what taught me how to be more resourceful.  I have always found the most lovely things in nature.  As an interior designer for many years, I learned that many people think they need to have oodles of cash to create beautiful spaces.  That. Is not. The case.  When I was a young married woman with little children, there was a time when our family lived off of $50.00 a week for groceries, gas, and ENTERTAINMENT; no, this is not B.S. That was IT.  

I wanted to stay at home with my babies, and that was simply how much money we had for a year or so.  I had to be scrappy.  I found inspiration outside, and I learned how to cook.  

I made wreaths out of discarded grapevines from local vineyards and pepper berries from trees in Carmel Valley.  I clipped flowers and greens from my garden and arranged them in pretty vintage jars.  I bought candles by the dozen at bargain stores.  I made my own bread – 10 loaves at a time baked in big upright V-8 cans –I know..not BPA-free, yadda, yadda – to share with my family and friends.  I ground up whole wheat, rye, and millet with a commercial bread mixer and grinder that the health food store owner gave me. I made a batch of 10 golden, nicely crusted, round loaves every few weeks, so we always had luscious, whole grain bread. It felt like a gift to learn how to do this well.  Not to mention the delicious aroma in the kitchen when it was baked or toasted.  Simply Divine.

I painted oddball folksy-looking Santa decorations out of interesting driftwood shapes I found on the beach in Big Sur.  

Folksy Little Santa Dudes
Folksy Little Santa Dudes

I went to triple coupon day at the grocery store on Wednesdays in Carmel, so we always had plenty of food. I cooked a healthy, hearty dinner about 6 nights a week, which we enjoyed by candlelight.  These are the things that made me feel rich with beauty and purpose. To this day, I find the most interesting things simply growing wild.  But you have to cultivate LOOKING for beauty; whether it’s in other people or in everyday objects.

8. Family Celebrations:

I don’t love the commercially driven stress we often create over the holidays.  I feel that most traditional holidays have become a charade of harried list shopping and trading of gift certificates. Sorry not really, if I sound like a big Bah Humbug, but I just don’t BUY it.  The best part of any holiday in my family is the festive dinner.  These days my kids chip in to the creation, making it even more fun. Yes, there are almost always candles and flowers.  And NO, it does not feel like a big fuss to me.  I love doing it. It feels nourishing to all of us on many levels.

9. Creating Beautiful Food: As for this one, I’m simply going to take some of my favorite quotes from Alexandra here:

Simple, fresh, unpretentious home cooking is what most of us strive to accomplish in our kitchens.  Few of us are professional cooks or artists who can attempt great style.  But like professionals, we can pay attention to details.

I’ve found that the essentials to a pleasant eating experience, in addition to what you eat, include: 1. Good company-which can be yourself, 2. the setting, 3. the fact that you don’t eat too much, and 4. recognizing that you have to be hungry before you begin.

M.F.K. Fisher loved to follow the sunlight wherever she lived and to eat wherever the sun was.  Light is a real tonic.

I prefer rich yellows, oranges, and soft greens.  Colors have seasonal moods, and opening up to the changes broadens your range of sensory experiences.

White is the perfect setting for richly colored foods-spinach, tomatoes, carrots, asparagus; gleaming white allowed food to sparkle. Rice on a white plate is lost.  Heighten contrasts by putting a little color next to the rice.  Try a lettuce leaf under it, or serve inside a scooped-out tomato.  Put roast corn on the cob in a basket or planter on a generous bed of watercress.

 Beauty nourishes.  And food feeds all our senses as well as our bodies.  

And finally: All rituals we perform at home are done to express our feelings.  We can’t care enough.

Thank you, Bella Alexandra.  J’adore.

10. Question Your Schedule:

If you are flicking cheerios at your computer with screaming kids, employees, employers, OR all of these, in the background while you read this, please know that it does not go unnoticed by me that many of you have very demanding schedules and that you could be annoyed or overwhelmed by this post.  

I geddit. Seriously, I DO.

But can you find some time in your life to ignite your senses in some part of your day?  

Think about it.  If you watch T.V. or check out Facebook, you probably have a tad of time.  Strong statement, I know. But if you feel inspired by some of these things, let them sit with you and see what happens.  

It should be fun to try new ideas.  Not another to-do-to-be-stressed-about.  No way.  Not on my watch, Darlings! 

So there you have it.

Is there anything that you are inspired to try?  What things do you already do that are rituals in your life? Chat with me about it in the comment area below.  Thanks for being here. I love to hear what you have to say!

21 Comments
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  1. Hey, Lisa….
    My mom forwarded me this post because of the picture of Dad you included and I found myself completely consumed bu every aspect of this – with the pictures, the C.V. memories, the people (God, i remember that gorgeous Pamela so well!), and then yours/your mom’s soothing and encouraging words about living a beautiful life. Lisa, i was moved to absolute tears by this entire post, I sh** you not.
    You are a fantastic writer and, above all, sincere in expressing your passion for the beauty in life, just like your whole family always was. I find myself always “living a beautiful life” every day because of having been brought up around people like your family, the Porters, the Thornburghs, and my own mom and dad and having learned to practice that kind of peace that comes from resourcefulness. (Your words made it so much more clear than I seem to be able to!).
    But I really just wanted to tell you how deeply I felt on all levels, having read this. Thanks again. You have found your calling. I’m subscribing to your blog…..right after I get done with my facebook sesh (ha ha).

    1. Well Hello! @Janine Baird,
      Seeing your comments made my day. When I wrote this post I felt completely inspired. And when I came across these old photos…it was like I could feel the feel the sun on my face and smell the scent of sagebrush as though I was there. You were also such a part of that childhood and even into adulthood we had so much fun. Do you remember when you came over and helped me organize my kitchen as a professional chef (that you are), would? I remember you coming across my junk drawer and you having a lot of funny things to say about the crap I had in there; which shall be nameless;).
      THAT whole scene was hilarious. But you also shared recipes with me for simple roasted chicken and other things, and taught me what tools were absolutely essential in the kitchen…we were just 24 years old at the time. And of course, I then insisted that you MUST start your own business helping newlyweds set up their kitchens! At any rate, I’d love to catch up with you and I appreciate so much hearing from you on this post. The internet can be very harsh, but it also can be a very beautiful thing. Sending Big Love to you and your family! XOXO

  2. Hi All, for some reason people haven’t been able to comment on this post. I’ve received emails telling me that they tried to comment and got the message: “You’re commenting too quickly. Slow down”. We are looking into it! I apologize and appreciate you letting me know, as well as sending me lovely notes about how this post resonated with you. Here are a few that didn’t go through:

    Justine Snow: Dear Lisa, I can’t even begin to tell you how sweet your Blog was to me! That picture of you in the the tennis hat on your Sting Ray in your Adidas. I was wearing the same thing in Carmel all the time but mine was a white navy hat I wrote the words PEACE on. And my bike was a yellow Chopper but I also wore the Adidas since I was a little girl. We were two pea’s in a pod and we did not even know it. I loved your food quotes and I love lighting candles on he dinner table. I also share your “Monkey Mind”. The part that really resonated with me was about how poor you were in money but so rich in purpose. That has been my life for many years especially raising my two beautiful children. “We can’t care enough”! Yes sweetie, you are so much a soul mate to me. I thank you!!

    Cynthia Johnson: Loved this Lisa!
    FYI I tried to leave a comment in your comment section and I kept getting the message “you are posting comments too quickly. Slow down.” I tried a few times! It gave me a laugh though!
    I remember that book well…and loved it! I especially like your ‘rituals’ & ‘family celebrations’ but all of it is great food for thought!
    If your ever on the Big Island…let us know!
    Cheers, Cynthia

  3. Justine, Thank you so very much for sharing a little bit of your story and experience with me. People can make so many presumptions about what they think someones life has been about. You were/are always so lovely and carried yourself with such great style and grace. You are a classic beauty, both inside and out. Cheers to you and your family and your recent marriage! xoxo

  4. Cynthia, You definitely have these ideas DOWN! Going to a party at your festive home is such a sweet and memorable experience. You clearly enjoy creating beautiful food and spaces. And you do it with a calm graceful and generous spirit that we can all learn from! We will look you up on the big island. We have that in our docket 😉
    Thanks for stopping by! Cheers to you too. xoxo

  5. Your mother sounds just like my mother. I miss her dearly. She passed about 10 years ago. We learned so much together because she made sure that growing up was a part of being together and experiencing life, and not about things. We learned about everything together. It was the pre-hippie days and every perfect. My father was in the military and we were stationed all over the world so we had the world to explore, and my mother made sure that we did. Turkey was my favorite.

    1. Sandy,
      Your Mother sounds lovely. She sounds like she was a very intention minded woman. I’ve heard that military life can be difficult for children with all of the moving around. I would love to hear more about what you loved about Turkey!
      Thank you for sharing! xoxo

  6. I’ve been trying to live my life in a ‘poor’ way. Because I believe that we all just have too much in our lives. Too much clutter, too many things, too much hassle. When I was growing up I was able to go outside and find something to do and enjoy it, and when my kids were young I found that if my kids didn’t have the computer or a toy to play with they were bored, and that was it. I had to change my ways. Now my kids go out and play. They learn things outside, they camp, they grow. They come in with dirty knees. And they aren’t as bored.

    1. Jill,
      How fabulous that you acted on what you saw happening with your kids! they will thank you some day for this, even though they might have resisted the changes at first.
      Thanks for sharing and thanks for being “here”. Have a lovely 4th of July holiday!
      xoxo.

  7. I’m going to have to find Ms. Stoddard’s book! She sounds like just the person that I need in my life right now. Between her and you I can’t imagine needing any better role models in my life. You really have taught me some wonderful things on your website. Even just telling stories of your family and your life. I can see that how you are living is so wonderful and happy. And it works for you. And while EXACTLY how you live may not be exactly how I need to live, it makes me want to find EXACTLY how I need to live so I can find the peace and happiness that you have. You’re wonderful!

    1. Janice,
      “And while EXACTLY how you live may not be exactly how I need to live, it makes me want to find EXACTLY how I need to live so I can find the peace and happiness.”,

      What a very GREAT point you make. We all need to find our own path to what works for us the best. Thank you for stopping by. YOU are wonderful! xoxo.

  8. First of all, your mother is beautiful, but then, so are you, so no surprise there. This is a very inspiring post. I love the puttering, the presentation (I’m big on not saving China and nice towels for guests, but using them every day), nature, and creating something special out of the ordinary. Definite wins right there!

    Do I have a ritual? Well…yes, I guess I do. As a Christian, I begin my day with prayer, which is similar to meditation, I reckon. I also read a bit of Scripture and then BAM–to work. After a couple hours, a little one crawls into my lap, so I work with one hand and hold a snoozer or a nurser. Then a teen or middle wakes up, so I close the computer. Done. Period…even if I’m not done. That’s pretty much the “pre-morning” ritual around here. Otherwise, I have worker’s brain and don’t pay attention to my kiddos or hubby, which is a terrible way to start my day. It’s hard enough as it is to shake the working brain and upload Mommy brain.

    Inspiration around here is, like for you, nature. We can bring a touch into our home here or there, and it doesn’t take up too terribly much room. My husband is a musician, a couple daughters are artists, one is a writer–it’s a pretty incredible place to be, in the midst of all this perpetual creation.

    Thanks for a great post.

  9. Hi Lisa. I really enjoyed reading this post of your blog. I think your mom is really clever and cool, I loved that phrase “only boring people get bored”, I think I will it use it very often for everyone, who are complaying that “there is nothing to do”. :))

  10. LOVED reading this Lisa! Took me down memory lane in a good way…. baking bread, driftwood Santa’s, grapevine wreaths, candle light dinners…. We have gone through a lot together and separately but have always managed to keep beauty in our lives. I remember years ago when you told me the wise words of your mother “only boring people get bored”. Whenever I feel the least bit bored ( which is very rare since I’m not a boring person????) those words have come back to me. Years ago I said those same words to my daughter and I’ve heard her pass those same words on to her own kids. And so your mother’s wisdom continues on!
    There are not many people in my life that inspire me to the degree that you have, and for that I thank you.

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