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The Power of a Teacup

Power of a Teacup ModernRetroWoman.com

I started using a fine china cup and saucer at work.  You’d think it was just a teacup, right?  But in truth, it was actually a powerful statement, a line in the sand, the moment when I finally “came out” to my colleagues.

I didn’t say anything.  I just started using it.  The teacup was simply on my desk filled with the tea that I was drinking.

But it was noticed.

Some people didn’t know if they should say anything.  A few said they thought I was really brave.  Others expressed profound joy at seeing it. 

Overall, the response has been very positive and I know I’ve inspired at least one other person to do the same.

But I didn’t start using it for others.  I began using it for me.  And, as odd as it may seem, it has been a defining moment and I feel rather liberated.

I finally had the courage to say to the world, “I am the kind of person who enjoys using china…even at work.”

How did using a teacup happen?

A few months ago, I read Something From the Oven by Laura Shapiro* (hat tip to Maria for recommending it!).  In it, Ms. Shapiro discusses how early to mid-century women’s magazines and advertisers promoted the idea of gracious living.

Something clicked within me.  Gracious living.  Gracious living.  GRACIOUS LIVING!!!

I realized that that is the ideal I have been seeking.  The phrase gracious living is the embodiment of all that I have been writing about for all of these years. 

The Mister and I talked about what gracious living means to us.  It means living by a set of values and ideals that are often cast aside in today’s modern world. What it all boils down to for me is a desire to embrace beautiful living–to eating good food, Only Wearing Beautiful Clothes™, exercising my body on a regular basis so that I can move through the world easily and effortlessly, creating a peaceful and inviting home, developing my poise so that I can find ways to make other people feel important and special to me, and nourishing my creativity.

This meant I had to stop trying to conform to the norm of my work environment and community.  It’s not that the norm is bad in and of itself.  But it wasn’t authentic to me.  It was crushing my identity.  And my soul along with it.

And so, the black mug with our department’s logo on it needed be put away.  And the aggressively rebellious yellow mug given to me by an appreciative faculty member no longer felt playful because it didn’t represent the kind of person I want to be.

The teacup made from fine china quietly made its appearance.

Because I am the kind of woman who enjoys gracious living.


*If you click on this link and buy a copy of the book, Amazon gives me a small commission.  Thank you for supporting my blog!



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  1. This is an inspiration to me. I want my home to be how I want it to be instead of how clutter takes on a life of its own. I visited the display of beautiful table settings at the Fair and wished that I could attend a lovely dinner party. After reading your post I have determined that I can “set” my table even if it is only for one. I have begun the process. Thank you to Always the Lady in my eyes.

  2. Glad you enjoyed the book, and thanks for the hat tip! 🙂 Your post is VERY timely! I’ve been feeling exactly as you describe — like my soul is being crushed at a corporate job that requires an almost psychotic level of conformity. Or at least it feels psychotic to me when I constantly find myself in trouble for using basic common sense and good manners. (My manager backs me in this, so I know it’s not my imagination.)

    The worst part of it is, who gets the brunt of my dissatisfaction? My husband, of course. I’m tired, crabby, annoyed with the whole world, but he’s the one who sees it. Sigh. You’v given me a lot of food for thought, and the comfort of knowing I’m not alone. Obviously, once again our early- and mid-20th century ancestors can show us the way.

    1. Funny you should mention your husband getting the brunt of your dissatisfaction…

      We only live a couple of miles away from campus so The Mister drops me off and picks me up since parking is so awful near my office. A while ago, he picked me up and I was ranting about something that had happened with a difficult colleague at work. Then, I realized he wasn’t listening. When I said something about him not listening, he (politely) noted that every day it is the same thing, some sort of rant about something I can’t change, during the five-minute drive home. *ouch* So, I *try* to leave my work at my office door so that I can stay positive and cheerful for the person who is most important to me. Because he was right–ranting wasn’t going to change things so why ruminate on it?

  3. Gracious living? That sounds like a wonderful source of inspiration to me! I love the teacup idea; it’s giving me ideas for how I want to center my ideal way of living, especially when it comes to creativity. I am a student of the arts and am getting ready to graduate next year. I want to live and learn graciously in the present and in the future, and am doing my best to accomplishing that goal. Thank you for the source of inspiration! And I’ll be sure to get that book too. 🙂

    1. Doesn’t the phrase “gracious living” just seem to make a lot of sense? It is like I can say to myself, “Would this behavior/idea/whatever fall under my definition of gracious living?” It has been a game changer for me.

  4. What a great article – Brava! Your tea cup is lovely. I don’t know why it is an uphill battle or why it’s so hard but it really is. I really do feel it is brave and important what you are doing.

    I am really pale and if I am outside I wear a hat and I get looks for that! I get it looks when I wear a dress to church! I got sick of it so I decided to wear a “fascinator” to my daughters communion – I figured if people are going to look at me I might as well give them something to look at, Ha ha ha – I did get a lot of compliments – it helps that Kate Middleton has made headpieces fashionable

    Keep up the good work !!

    1. Awe, thanks for your kind words!

      Isn’t it crazy how people would give you looks for wearing a dress to church? I mean, I remember when wearing a *pantsuit* was considered disrespectful.

      I, too, burn within seconds of being outside. Wearing a hat is smart!

  5. This reminds me of, “Living a Beautiful Life” by Alexandra Stoddard. Such a good reminder. I got rid of my Mug a few years ago and I’m so glad I did. Love this post.

    1. OMG! My older sister gave me that book way back in 1988. I’ve held onto it in spite of our many, many moves around the country. After having the “gracious living” a-ha moment, I found it on my bookshelf and started rereading it. Who knew that it would finally resonate with me all of these years later!

  6. Amen! I totally agree, and am on the same path in my life! This week I wore what I truly loved, which looked very similar to an Edwardian walking skirt/blouse/jacket (sans hat because I was at work), and felt authentically me. There was a drastic difference between what I was wearing and what my colleagues were wearing. I had one compliment, and one question: “Aren’t you hot with that jacket on?” (No, I wasn’t). Proud of you, keep it up!

  7. When I looked at the three different photographs of your desk, I realized that I felt a sense of calm and serenity looking at the one featuring your teacup and saucer. I have a lovely teacup a friend gave me, which is very special because it had belonged to her late mother. However, I seldom use it because it is very tiny and I drink quite a bit of tea in the morning – usually two mugs! But you inspired me, so I went online at Amazon and purchased a lovely, over-sized teacup and saucer, adorned with lovely pink roses and a pink-and-white polka dot saucer. I can’t wait for it to arrive. Thank you, Dr. Julie. You bring such wisdom, joy and good things to your readers’ lives.

    1. I think I know what cup and saucer you are talking about! If it is the one I’m thinking of, I almost bought it, too! But then I realized that I had 12 sets (I have a big family) that only get used once or twice per year so I unearthed those and brought two sets into the office with me.

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