Archive for the ‘Pure Charm-i-ness’ Category

Finally! The board game guide to escaping fundamentalism

March 9, 2015

map onlyI hope you love somewhat fake maps as much as I do.

I’m thrilled to introduce A Field Guide to Losing Your Religion … but Not Your Soul. It’s the 20-step plan you’ve been waiting for.

The topography of an un-conversion is wild, and I’m here to guide you through it. (With Dante! And Dickinson! And marshmallows! And Korean taco trucks!)

Completion may take several years, so why not start today?

Or, I’d love to see you over on my new site, which is

Hips are the new butterflies

August 11, 2011
A lady broke her hip in Memphis, so I moved back to San Francisco, putting a new spin on the butterfly effect.

Scenes from the adventure that ensued, documented on Charm to Go.

Chaos theory has a new case study, as if it needed one.


Scene 1: A lady in Memphis breaks her hip. Ouch, I say, ouch! She presumably calls my landlord in Nashville, who happens to be her son, to report the demise of said hip.

Scene 2: My landlord perhaps sits in his Adirondack and sighs. He realizes that, while I’m nice and all, I’m not his mother and my bones are all fine as far as he knows and I don’t really need to live right next door to him as much as his mother does.

Scene 3: I see a handwritten note when I arrive home from being a productive citizen and working all day. The note says I must please and thank you go away very soon, but it’s been a pleasure having me as a neighbor and collecting my rent check every month.

Scene 4: I decide that if I have to move anyway, I may as well leave Tennessee altogether and go back to California. I suppose it’s worth noting that I’ve been considering this plan for a couple of years. If you believe that the universe if full of signs just waiting for your personal interpretation, getting kicked out of where you live is surely one of them. “What does it mean,” I queried the universe. “Get out of here,” the universe obligingly replied. (Except the universe also used a curse word for dramatic effect.)

Scene 5: I ponder the merits of not taking my various objects with me. Objects that I’ve curated over my 40 years on the planet. Objects that I’ve hauled around from Iowa to Kentucky to Tennessee to Minneapolis to San Francisco to Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. and back to Tennessee. Objects that I’ve recently acquired. Objects that you can sit on and sleep on. Objects that will fit in an average-sized pocket. Objects that require a truck, if you want to move them more than a few yards. Objects that have histories. Some objects that, while not objectionable, I wouldn’t pick again. Some objects that I love. Objects that are heavy either way, all told.

Scene 6: I decide to get rid of nearly everything. Saying goodbye to both possessions and people commences.

Scene 7: I meet the lady who broke her hip. She asks if she can keep my groovy kitchen table and chairs, the last items remaining that a friend with a pickup was going to help me take to Goodwill later that day. Lady did not use the word “groovy.” Still, lady has taste. Enjoy those fantastic metal vintage cabinets that line the kitchen, lady.

Scene 8: I mail a few things to California, and I pack a few things in my car. I make a run for it but don’t make a scene.

Scene 9: I start a Tumblr along the way to chronicle my adventure.

So charm is now available over there as well, at Charm to Go: an exquisite departure.

Mid-century fantasies, sea monkeys and spies: my domed life

February 10, 2011

Of course, it's an ad for an electric company.

Sometimes life in a bubble looks pretty good, which may or may not have anything to do with Plato.

Nashville’s on-again, off-again interactions with snowishness keep reminding me of this ad in my stash of ’60s ephemera.

“Future homes,” the ad says, “will be able to face in any direction, turned at will by your electricity.”

The optimistic copy goes on to describe the clear dome as a “climate-controlled extension” that allows, obviously, the largely unsung benefits of tending gardens and snowmen simultaneously.

The round walls, the floor-to-ceiling windows, the cheery colors … this dream house is oh-so mid-century, distinctly engineered but also attuned to nature.

Looking at the ad’s appealing mix of domedishness and openness, I started remembering similar images that enchanted me while growing up. Domed wonders through the years:

Cute monkeys? Yes.

Aquarium finery with sea monkeys.

When I was little, those little sea monkey families looked so happy in the pictures that I’m pretty sure I wanted to live with them. I settled for buying some with my allowance money instead, but I found that the creatures (or “brine shrimp,” for you scientists) were not so much adorable as they were unidentifiable.

Also, not huggable.

The carefree picture was, as they say, where it’s at. Do they still say “where it’s at?”


Undersea mod? Yes.

Underwater living with Tony Randall.

At some point in my formative years, the 1969 movie Hello, Down There made its way to television. You might want to ask me to sing the theme song for you sometime. In case you missed it, an architect moves his family to an undersea glass house full of appliances that appear at the push of a button. Plot points include a miniature submarine, dolphin visitors and, of course, kids who play in a band. (Spoiler alert: The dolphins love the band!)

Just yes.


Romantic escape pod with 007.

Then there’s the scene at the end of The Spy Who Loved Me, where Bond and Agent Triple X float away in a deluxe escape pod. This, too, made its way to television.

There was the Cold War, and there was the threat of XXX shooting 007, but then there was also a bar and the bed. It was a most companionable pod.

Telling, yes? Turns out I’m super into pod living. And this progression seems downright fairy tale-like, now that I see these three underwater longings of my childhood and an above-ground, modern one in my adulthood to round things off. Plus, I live in a place now with a totally ‘60s kitchen.

There’s something here in these bubbles about happiness and intimacy. About connecting with the outside world from a solid, comforting place. About wanting to find somewhere to nestle. About generating our own charming metaphoric pods that we can take with us wherever we go. About real vs. ideal. And maybe about Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. I mean, if the cave had been really cool with a pop-up bar and maybe rotating walls or whatever. You know what I mean, though — the philosopher’s take on mistaking shadow for form, gaining understanding and recognizing goodness.

I’m not sure what it all means, but I think if I can harness the promise of the sea monkeys, the exuberance of ocean floor living, the sensuosity of secret agent escape pods and the innovation of the ‘60s fantasy house, I’ll be set.

Also, I should probably buy a submarine.

P.S. I don’t really want a submarine.

A glossary of niceties

July 28, 2010

See letter K. Tastes as good as it looks?

At least one thing that makes me happy for every letter of the alphabet. (Sometimes, a return to fourth-grade formats is in order.)

Ampersands. At once old-fashioned and modern. Efficient and handsome. Sometimes they seem pretentious, and sometimes they seem overly casual. How can all of these things be true of a little symbol? Semiotics. It’s the new “plastics.”

Breathing in the smell of wood smoke in the crisp fall air.

Brain research. Two words: neural plasticity. Good news. (Also two words.)

Cooking. I was staring into my freezer a few evenings ago wondering if it had a meal to offer me when I remembered, “Oh, yeah — I know how to cook.” Suddenly, I was making a roux and unwrapping cheeses. Then 30 minutes later, my cupboards and fridge were emptier, my pans were dirtier and my hunger was gone. All-around satisfying.

DVRs. More focused, commercial-free TV-watching segments of my life.

Experiencing a thunderstorm.

Fonts are fun. Mid-century fonts are perhaps the most fun. Some people enjoy railing against particular fonts. Others simply gaze fondly at the beautiful shapes of certain letters and numbers.


See letter M. And please eat while sitting in pickup truck.

Having time to think about life and stuff. Sometimes while staring at trees, sometimes while driving around, sometimes while cutting out pages from a 1902 Sears catalog or a 1964 magazine and using them for (art?) projects. Sometimes doing those things while not bothering to think at all.

Imitation fur blankets & such. All the softness of rabbits, none of the harming of animals.

Japanese notebooks.

Knowing the center of our galaxy might taste like raspberries.

Loopy. It’s just a great word is all.

Macarons. When possible, by Pierre Hermes. When possible, in Paris. When possible, a box with lots of flavors, such as pistachio, rose, chocolate-passion fruit and salted butter caramel. When possible, also vanilla.

Noticing the place where the sky meets the trees. Seriously, has this juxtaposition ever caught your eye? It catches my breath sometimes, the way it always looks just right. Green leaves against a stormy, gray sky? Yes. Yellow leaves in fall against a bright blue? Yes. Stark, brown branches in winter against white clouds? Yes. I’m telling you — it’s perfect every time.

Orgone, Ozomatli, other funky world music.

See letters P and Z. Me with my brother on our front porch. Yep, it was the '70s.

Oh, what a handy exclamation.

Pickup trucks. Old ones, that is.

Pretty plus. On a childhood back-to-school shopping outing, my brother was miffed that I couldn’t shop in the “pretty plus” section. I explained that it was for people who needed bigger sizes, but he still thought I thought should be able to shop in a section called that. So even though he has no memory of this exchange, he must have thought I was a nice little sister. Sweet.


Really sharp pencils.

Root beer floats. AKA black cows. What’s not to like?

Sunlight streaming through a few nearby trees to achieve slight dappling effect. Best enjoyed with eyes closed to feel nuanced interplay of breeze, shade and light.

Things that fit in pockets. Also, pockets.


Venturing into the unknown.

Waking up to what’s true. Also, waking up to who you really are.

X. Even pirates know it marks the spot.

Yipee, yee-haw and other sentiments of unabashed joy.

Zick it. When my brother and I were in elementary school, we decided to invent our own language so we could communicate privately in any situation. We decided “zick it” was an essential phrase but one that we never would use harshly on each other, as it meant “shut up.” I wish I could remember what “comosito” meant.

Photo credits: Milky Way photo by NASA, macaron photo by Pierre Hermes.

Soft lips, full pocketbook

February 3, 2009

Just a spoonful of sugar helps your chapped lips go down, thanks to a budget-friendly DIY exfoliator.

Lip-smacking assemby line

My lip-smacking assembly line

Winter is taking a toll on my skin this year, but I’m pleased as sugary citrus punch to have found a solution for my lips that only cost me pennies. I’ve read this year that the secret to soft lips is exfoliating, and I decided it must be true a couple of weeks ago after several days of incessant lip balm applications were to no avail.

Then I ran across this post on Bella Sugar with instructions to make your own lip exfoliator. My personal talents usually don’t extend to the DIY realm, but this effort consists of simple ingredient assembly. I’d say my pet monkey could do it, but I think we all know I don’t have a pet monkey.

Just mix together a teaspoon of olive oil, a teaspoon of honey, two teaspoons of white granulated sugar and a dash of lemon juice. I didn’t have any lemons, so I settled for a lime. I also didn’t actually bother to measure anything. Then rub some onto your lips and sweep back and forth.

Before finding that idea, I’d had my eye on this prettily packaged tube of buffing beads from Benefit, which is one of the exfoliators recommended by the Law & Order: Beauty woman (aka “cosmetics cop”) Paula Begoun. (No, there isn’t really a Law & Order: Beauty edition … I’m just delirious from all the sugar on my lips.) The lip balm & exfoliator duo is cute, but I also had my eye on my budget, and I couldn’t quite pull the trigger on $32.

So read my lips and pull from your cupboards instead. The result is sweet, cheap and effective.

Lipscription, $32
DIY recipe, free

(I also found instructions for DIY lip balm, but that’s way out of my league.)

Charm-o-Matic matters

October 3, 2008

Also known as … my second charmifesto

The past I talk about in Jesus Goes to Charm School led me to invent the Charm-o-Matic, a handy little metaphorical machine that generates conscious delight at the push of a button.


Because happiness is an assembly line. Delight doesn’t always just happen. Some deliberate assembly is required.

Because mystics-at-large can appreciate the subtle genius in lip balm and macaroons, in pine trees and flip-flops, in gnomes and notebooks.

Because we all need our own little pocket guide: a compendium of delights for a fulfilling life. It’s a Ben Franklin thing. It’s an Emily Dickinson thing.

Because charm is the new black, and everyone’s tickled pink. Cynicism is way too easy, and snarkiness is as been-there as its own nose in the air (except when its head is in the sand).

Because bliss is interesting, and happiness is smart.

Because the truth sparkles in a million different ways when poetry is on the brain. Thinking on purpose makes waves.  Or makes them stand still.

Because shamans, queens and warrior goddesses light sacred fires every day with a sip of morning coffee.

Because the Charm-o-Matic light is always on. Life, liberty and charm-i-ness for all.

So let’s set up the Charm-o-Matic and get busy. Let’s keep it somewhere handy on the counter. Let’s not be haphazard or skin-deep. Let’s be charmers.

Charmed life

October 2, 2008

Susan Gray Blue

Now that I’m almost 40, I’ve found a whole new sense of happy adventure. Entirely as a coincidence, I also started blogging. Specifically, I’m blogging about my quirky religious background and the charming path I found that goes to a truer place.

I started my career as an English teacher in Kentucky and Tennessee, took a break for grad school in Minnesota and then headed to San Francisco, where I unwittingly began a career in online media. I worked for for six years, ending up as the Senior Editorial Director in Los Angeles. Then I worked at AOL for two or three years in the D.C area before moving to Nashville and working for a small start-up for baby boomers until the owners shut it down about a year later. No longer working for anyone full-time, I smell flowers regularly. Roses are okay, but they’re not my favorite.

My fascination with finding symbolic meaning in consumer culture began back in 1998 when I wrote three ongoing shopping columns for Citysearch – Brand Nation, Made by the Bay and Fetish Object of the Week. I’m not drawn to the kind of superficial fixes that clutter our lives with meaningless “stuff” and or to the glib obliviousness to the world’s suffering that gives happiness a bad name. I’m talking about the power of finding fresh joy in the intensely particular forms of modern life. Instead of glorifying the same old boring negativity, cynicism and fear, we choose to peer beyond into the beauty.

I created a Charm-o-Matic for myself when I realized that I was responsible for my own happiness. After I experienced a religious un-conversion, I began putting all of the pieces back together to form a stronger whole – with an eye toward peace, beauty, kindness and innovation.

Now, I’m putting the Charm-o-Matic where all self-respecting machines belong: online.

The Charm-o-Matic generates techniques, tips and totems, all for your living pleasure. I love talking about these things, and I hope you’ll share what makes you happy too. I look forward to knowing you.