Thursday, September 30, 2010

Ryan Howard vs. The Dallas Cowboys: Grant vs. Grunts

Ryan Howard is a Grant. That's a male Grace for the uninitiated--Grant, as in Cary, or Hugh in certain roles. The Phillies' slugging first baseman showed his Grantly colors on Monday evening when his team clinched their 4th consecutive division title. He would not allow the champagne celebration to begin until teammates Roy Halliday and Mike Sweeney were present to pop the first corks. Halliday and Sweeney are both veteran players who joined the Phillies this year. Neither had reached the playoffs before despite illustrious careers. Ryan Howard's gesture, along with the team's cooperation demonstrates again that in addition to possessing prodigious baseball skill and really good looks, they are nice guys. Glad they are my home team!

Contrast that with the appalling demonstration of Gruntliness by the Dallas Cowboys in sticking a young player with a steak dinner tab that equals a down payment on a house. I know, I know, it's the NFL. This is not the first time I have remarked on their lack of civility. But they are role models. My beef, if you'll pardon the pun, with them is threefold:

1. Do kids need to see veteran players hazing rookies? Seems a dangerously short leap from there to bullying.
2. In the current economic climate, does anyone need to see the grossly conspicuous consumption involved in a $55,000 dinner tab?
3. When Dez Bryant invited the Offensive Line to dinner to apologize for his unwillingness to carry Roy Williams's equipment during training camp, Roy Williams took it upon himself to invite the Defensive Line as well. As he was not hosting, he had no business issuing invitations!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Politeness Trend?

Dare we hope, Graces? There seem to be signs in the media that politeness and civility are destined to become hip.

Consider the new Politeness Program at Rutgers University. School officials tired of the campus-wide rudeness and decided to take action. The constant texting, phoning, and web surfing during class pushed professors to a breaking point. Students simply had no sense of when it was ok to whip out their devices, so Rutgers has set out to instruct them.

College campuses have always been on the front end of social change on matters ranging from the Viet Nam War to Facebook, so let's hope this is the start of a trend toward civility and decorum. I applaud Rutgers for this project. I might even write them a thank you note.

On a slightly more tongue-in-cheek side of things, consider Jon Stewart's latest....The Rally to Restore Sanity. As only Stewart can, he has skewered the current practice of political opponents to outshout and verbally eviscerate each other. While I won't be attending said rally, I think it's worth noting.

What do you think, Graces? Is etiquette rearing its lovely head?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Heavenly Hostess Gifts

I had a book club gathering at my house on Friday evening, and I got the most fabulous hostess gift--love, love, love these hilarious novelty cocktail napkins. Thanks, C.

This got me thinking about hostess gifts.....

Hostess gifts are an absolute. When I say "hostess gifts", I refer to the tasteful things guests bring to parties to honor and thank the host for their hospitality. But please, please, please, do not confuse hostess gifts with "pot luck". Never bring a dish to add to the menu unless you are asked to do so and given explicit instructions. It's fine to bring something homemade and/or edible, but be sure it is wrapped and made abundantly clear that your offering is for the host and hostess to enjoy at their leisure and need not be broken out at the party unless that is their express wish. If you do bring such an item, make sure to advise the hosts on refrigeration needs; no appropriate hostess gift is accompanied by food poisoning or botulism.

I will never forget a party I hosted several years ago featuring a carefully crafted cocktail supper menu that required no utensils. We had mini lobster rolls, assorted kebobs, a variety of wraps, lollipop lamb chops, and a selection of panini, among other pick-up tidbits. Imagine my horror when a new acquaintance showed up with a bucket-sized bowl of molded jello ambrosia--color green, interspersed with mini marshmallows, canned fruit cocktail, and, I think, globules of mayonnaise. Allow me a moment to collect myself. Pause for deep, cleansing breath. What is a Grace to do? I gratefully thanked the guest, sent her toward the bar, whisked said vessel into the hands of one of the servers, and directed him that under no circs were they to bring it out even if nuclear bombs exploded and we were forced to quarantine ourselves in the basement and eat each other.

Better to bring something like...

fun novelty cocktail napkins
gourmet foodstuffs
tomorrow's breakfast for the hosts (coffee, croissants, jam, fresh oj)
wine or spirits
fancy soaps (not Dial or Ivory, please)

What are your fave hostess gifts?

Friday, September 24, 2010

House Guests and Locked Doors

Dear Social Grace,
A question has come up concerning how to handle the touchy subject of allowing other people to use vacation homes when one is not there. It is my understanding that if there is sufficient room in said home, guests do not need to use the master bedroom. I believe that space should remain personal and that one should not have to empty closets, dressers and medicine cabinets to allow guests access to one's private space. There are more than sufficient en suite rooms available for the guests without the master bedroom. Is it permissible to lock the door to the master suite? The guests have rather spirited children and I do not relish the idea of my lipsticks being used as finger paints on my bathroom walls . I look forward to your answer.
An Avid Reader

Dear Avid,
Thanks for writing. Avid Readers are my favorite kind, and of course I love hearing your dilemmas. The bottom line answer to your question is very simple: "Your House, Your Rules." That said, like everything, there is a Gracious way to implement this. I assume you don't have the type of guests coming who are likely to, well, do something like......(the following clip contains some rather unGracious language, but it is so cursed funny that I decided to use it anyway.)

If there is ample space in the house so that the guests don't have to roll out sleeping bags, your master suite need not be invaded. But locking the door can be tricky. Even if your intention is to preserve your privacy--and I agree--the guests really don't need to see your bleaching cream or La Perla lingerie--they might take offense at the locked door.

You know I am a fan of the "little white lie". Here is the perfect opportunity to utilize this valuable social tool. Lock the door. Then make the following phone call to your guest.

Say, "Angelina, I'm delighted that you, Brad and they children are going to use our house next week. Just a quick heads up--we've had workers and cleaners in and out recently and we locked all of our valuables in the second floor bedroom for security. I won't be back before your stay to unlock it, but there are plenty of other en suite rooms for you to use--the third floor front room has the most comfortable bed and a great view of the lake. Have a wonderful time!"

Note that you are not going to call the locked room 'master suite', which might be seen as a slight.

Good luck!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Conflict Resolution

Dear Grace,
I have accepted an invitation for an event that, under normal circ's, I would be happy to attend. Unfortunately, I learned today that it conflicts with another event that I really, really want and need to attend. The first is a small gathering at a friend's house followed by an art opening. The second is a charity ball for a historic neighborhood landmark--a neighborhood where I recently moved, where I own a small business, and many of my customers are on the benefit committee.

I don't want to punk out on my friend; I did accept the invite. But I know my absence will be noted at the benefit and I don't want to offend my clients. Help.

Grace Says:

This is a problem with the Graces and Grants of the world--we are in demand.

You have several options:

1. Make a donation to the benefit but keep your plans as they are. If any of the fundraisers ask, tell them that you had a prior engagement.

2. Extricate yourself from the current commitment. Call your hostess friend and say, "Anna, I am terribly sorry to do this to you but I goofed on the calendar. The night of your party is the same night as the Charity Ball and I feel really obliged to go. Since my business is located in the neighborhood I think it would be frowned upon if I did not make an appearance. The last thing I can afford to do is upset my customers. Can I take you out to lunch next week instead?"

3. Do both. Explain the situation to your friend and let her know that you are in a bit of a bind. Tell her that you don't want to back out on her but you are equally obliged to attend the fundraiser. Stop by her house for a drink on the way to the fete, and leave in plenty of time to see and be seen at the par-tay. (Make sure you bring her a nice hostess gift--scented candle, bottle of wine, decorative cocktail napkins or gourmet coffee beans.)

In case you are wondering, I would go for option 3, but all are perfectly acceptable.

PS: Steer clear of sherbet colored tuxedoes.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

You Are Cordially Un-invited

Dear Grace,
I have a group of friends who lunch out occasionally. It is a pretty informal thing and we often invite others to join us. Recently, I organized a birthday lunch for one of the women in the group. It was a more intimate group than the wider "come one, come all" lunch set and designed to be a small gathering of her dearest friends at a very pricey restaurant. Unfortunately, one of the dear friends did not get the whole story and invited another woman to join us. She is not a friend of the birthday girl (who, in fact, dislikes the invitee) and it really messed up my arrangements. How do I deal with this?

Grace Says:

This goes back to my thesis that No Good Deed Goes Unpunished. You are in a tough spot. As I see it, you have three options, none terribly tempting:

1. Explain to the unintentionally invited guest that there was a mixup. Say: "Julie, I am so sorry that Anna got her wires crossed. I had organized a small birthday lunch for Louise but Anna thought it was our Ladies Lunch group. When she invited you, she didn't realize that I had arranged a lunch for four, made a reservation accordingly, and set this up as a birthday gift for us to treat Louise for lunch at Chez Cher. When we organize our next Ladies Lunch, you are first on the list." Hopefully, Julie will be reasonable and back out Graciously. The not very subtle hint that she will be expected to pay for Louise's lunch should deter her. And even most Grunts will back out if it is made clear that they are not really welcome.

2. Make Anna do the dirty work. She's the one who made the mess, so she should clean it up. But there is a risk: Anna has already made one significant boo-boo. You might think twice before putting this in her suspect hands.

3. Cancel the lunch and reschedule it for another time and place.

Either way, Vodka Stingers go a long way to a point. But that's a topic for another day.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Rated PG: Parental Graciousness

Whilst the epic rudeness of our world forces my hand to report more often than not on the Gruntly behavior of others, I am delighted to be here here today in praise of the recent Graciousness of my neighbors.

They invited my daughter to their condo pool. When the dad called to arrange logistics, he made sure to clear the fact that the girls would be swimming under the watchful eye of the lifeguard, but he and his wife were to be occupied elsewhere and unable to provide additional supervision. I was fine with this; my little fish is eleven and very competent in the water. But that's not the point--the point was that these folks were considerate enough to make sure I was comfortable with the arrangement and they did not assume my permission.

Truth be told, I actually considered going to the pool with the girls. Life guards can be very picturesque.

Then I remembered that the lifeguard at this pool was a tall, suspiciously blond septuagenarian who favors Speedo swimwear. Nothing like a long, thin, shriveled...Eek. Pause for deep, cleansing breath. I stayed home with the Sunday Times crossword instead.

Upping the Grace quotient even further, after the neighbors sent my little swimmer home (across the street) they called to make sure she arrived safely. Isn't that Gracious? No wonder we're friends.

Lest you think that I am only here to report on the scarce and rare encouraging notes on the spread of Graciousness in our world, let me share another nugget from the opposite side of the tea cart....

Contrast the swimming episode with a sleepover that my little one attended two years ago. (The mathematicians among you will conclude that she was nine at the time.) She came home and said, "I LOVE sleeping at Brittany's! Her mom let us walk to the candy store by ourselves, and we were allowed to stay home alone, order Chinese food, and pay-per-view 27 Dresses while the rest of the family went to a neighbor's house for dinner. It was awesome!" Well, Graces, I was speechless. How was I enraged? Let me count the ways:

1. Parents may not assume that the level of freedom they permit is universal. Living in a city, as we do, it is not the norm to send children under the age of 13 roaming the streets alone.
2. Parents may not assume that all parents are comfortable leaving children home alone.

Full disclosure: I probably would have ok'd this if the mom had called ahead and said, "We're going to a neighbor's house for dinner. It's three doors down and the girls don't want to go. Is it alright with you if I let them stay here and watch a movie? They have my cell phone number on speed dial, and they are in shouting distance of us if anything goes wrong." But, of course, she didn't ask.
3. Parents should not allow nine year olds to open the door to strange delivery men, particularly when they are not home.
4. Parents should not presume that other parents permit nine year olds to watch PG-13 movies with suggestive sexual content and adult language.

How about you, Graces? What are your Dos and Don'ts of being in loco parentis?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Grace Gaffe

Lest you think I am only here to report on the bad behavior of others, I am here today to out myself on a lulu of a booboo I committed over the weekend.

As most of you doubtless know, Saturday was Yom Kippur. I say 'doubtless' because even if you are not Jewish, Graces make it our business to be mindful of others' cultures and celebrations, particularly so we can wish them well and respect their traditions. I am married to a NJB (Nice Jewish Boy) so I was well aware of the holiday.

That's the background. Now here's the gaffe.....I texted a friend of mine at about noon on Saturday for the details on her daughter's Sunday afternoon birthday party. Oddly, I did not hear back from her, so about an hour later, I called her. She picked picked up immediately and said: "We're at synagogue. Will call you back after services." Well, Graces, I was mortified. Naturally, I ceased further correspondence. Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement, and though I am not Jewish, I sure felt the need to atone for that major faux pas.

I spoke to her later and issued abject apologies, but she was unbugged--she confessed to watching the Phillies game on her MLB Iphone App when my text and call came through. Of course, she was very nice to share that with me, and it did diminish my embarrassment, but was pretty bad.

I thought Adam Lambert's reprimand to an audience member on a cell phone was pretty hilarious....

Any of you have any confessions you want to share?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Fitness Friday?

Fall is always a time when I am forced to pay my dues for the three slovenly months of summer. Sadly, happy hours, excessive consumption of ice cream and long stretches of sitting on the beach take their toll on the ol' physique. Running seemed like an efficient way to pare down, so this morning I gave it a shot.

I envisioned myself in this way as I began my run:

After about 11 steps I was dying. My knees hurt. My hips hurt. My lungs were at capacity. And this from a woman whose 5-day-a-week-gym visits include a zumba class, a yoga class, 30 minute stints on various cardio machines, and free weight training. Doesn't this seem incredibly unfair? Rude, even?
Forget Wonder Woman. Within minutes I was feeling more like....
As I had chosen a picturesque riverside path for my maiden voyage, there were quite a few folks there with the same idea. They were all very, very friendly. Each one who passed by (and rest assured, most everyone passed me) said hello. This seemed to me a strong indication that the Etiquette Code was alive and well on that particular trail. They were also considerate in terms of sharing the road. The rule seems to be that the most mobile person yields. I am embarrassed to report that I received the right of way from: a mom pushing a double stroller; a dog walker managing four leashes; an elderly man on a motorized assistive device; and a trio of power walking grannies.

As the grannies passed me, they issued the customary 'good morning'. Ever striving to be a Grace, I attempted to return their friendly greeting. I grunted out a "Guuhhh...." and kept going. They looked a bit worried, and appeared to consider calling for help. I envisioned a cute EMT coming to my aid and considered collapsing right there...

Quickly stopped hallucinating, realized that my luck was more likely to deliver

and I soldiered on.

As a result of my hellish 30 minutes I learned three things:

1. People with curves are not built for running.
2. Fellow exercisers are friendly and polite.
3. I strongly prefer zumba.

Seeking ideas for alternatives to running that will ensure closure on my Citizens Jeans as the temp drops. Please send me suggestions!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

When It Comes To Advice, Stay In Your Lane

As The Social Grace, I am called upon frequently to give advice.

What do I serve at a casual dinner that will meet the needs of vegetarians and carnivores? Ravioli.
What do I say to my mother-in-law when she reminds me that my silver needs polishing?
"Thanks for the reminder, sometimes I do forget." Smile sweetly and make a mental note to give her wrinkle cream for her birthday.
What do I wear to a party with absolutely no guidance on dress code?
Black--either flowing pants and a funky top or your fave midway-between- formal-and-casual LBD.

But do you see me offering advice on tax issues? cardiac surgery? automobile repair? Of course not, because Graces know to stay in our lanes, unlike the Italian Prime Minister. I had to laugh when I read the news: Lately plagued by scandals involving prostitutes and prodigious philandering.......Silvio Berlusconi gives dating advice?

Come on, that's like Sarah Palin teaching English.

Or Bill Clinton giving monogamy lessons....

Any other great examples of lane strayers? The Philadelphia Eagles teaching First Aid for head injuries? Lindsey Lohan on, well, anything? Tell me, Graces, what do you think?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Why Are You Staring At My Melons?

There are many ironclad rules in The Etiquette Code. The one I wish to address today is one whose violation over the weekend caused me some embarrassment. Graces Tell--spinach in the teeth, skirt hiking up, zipper down, errant lipstick. We do what we can to prevent humiliation and discomfort in our fellow man. Here's the story:

I was at the supermarket on Sunday morning and happened upon a produce display offering a 'buy-one-get-one-free' deal on fragrant, sweet-smelling cantaloupes. Never one to resist quality fruit or good bargains, I helped myself to several, and carried on with my extensive shopping. After an hour or so in the market, I left and went to the beer distributors. Lest we forget, this was NFL's opening day, so both the market and the beer shop were teeming with game-day provisioners.

I finished my errands, and headed home. My daughter greeted me in the driveway with a horror stricken expression and pointed at my chest. There, on the downward slope of my right boob was a bright orange "buy one get one free" sticker. And of course, the placement precluded me from seeing it easily because it was on the underside, out of my direct sightline. Does this constitute a wardrobe malfunction?

Can you believe that not one person, from the cashier, the deli clerk, the dozens of fellow shoppers, or the guy who got my case of Victory Golden Monkey Tripel Ale off the shelf and into my trunk clued me in that I was walking around looking like a promotional sale on augmentation surgery?

Please tell me, Graces, that if you had been in my vicinity, you would have alerted me of this mortifying adornment!

Here is some further advice on how.......

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Things I Learned This Summer

As I bid a fond farewell to my favorite season, I am called to pause and reflect on what I have learned as a result of 12 unstructured, relatively workless weeks. As always, I share this new found knowledge with you, my Fellow Graces:

1. I Abhor Manual Labor.

In a fit of unaccustomed frugality and motivation, my siblings concocted a plan to paint the family's beach house. I mean literally paint the house, not hire picturesque, lean, muscular-in-an-appealing-non-steroid-enhanced-way, suntanned college students. Of course, there is no Gracious way to be the sole sister unwilling to participate, and despite the fact that I don't even paint my own nails, I did wield scrapers, brushes and rollers for the better part of Labor Day weekend. I suppose the timing had a certain aptness, given the onerous toil of the task at hand. The good news is, the house does look much better, the bad news is, we have shown that, in a pinch, we have the capacity for this type of enterprise. I am signing off shortly to book non-refundable tickets to be elsewhere next Labor Day. My contribution to whatever DIY project they hatch next will be a generous gift card to Home Depot and perhaps a delivery of pizza and beer phoned in from afar.

2. Fit Flops Are a Scam.

Yes, they are comfortable. Yes, they are far more supportive and walkable than the flimsy two dollar jobs available at drugstores. I wear my black patent Fit Flops everywhere, despite their relative homeliness. But in terms of toning legs and core? Nil. This marks my third summer in this clunky footwear, and you know how much this city girl walks. My shape has not changed measurably as a result of clomping around in these eyesores despite miles and miles. So, go ahead and wear them for comfort (though not for style). Just don't expect to have legs like Cameron Diaz as a result.

3. Ben Franklin Was Right.

After three days, fish and guests do stink. I learned this the hard way. A visitor brought the fixings for his justifiably famous homemade sushi. Grantly move, for sure. He made an overly generous batch, and, despite my insistence that the stuff was delish but had no shelf life, he was equally insistent that we keep it. There the Grantliness ceased. It appeared that the sushi was his ticket to commandeer the prime spot under the umbrella on the beach each day, claim sole control of the remote each evening to watch pre-season NFL games, despite equally fervent interest from fellow tele-viewers in the Phillies game, the Yankees game, the US Open tennis match, DC Housewives, and a documentary on the polar ice caps, and to lift not a finger to assist in cleaning, cooking or general upkeep of the house. The same cannot be said of his willingness to lift 12 oz cans to his lips. By the end of the second day, I would have eaten the aging maki rolls to expedite his departure.

4. Other People's Kids Are a Minefield

"Johnny ate a candy bar before dinner. Why can't I have one?" "I don't want to go to bed now. My cousins don't have a bedtime ever." "If Susie doesn't have to eat vegetables I won't either." "I hate sunscreen and hats. Aunt Jess never makes her kids wear them." Tempting though it is to say, "That's why Johnny has 17 cavities. Do you like the dentist's drill?" and "That's why your cousins can't sustain the attention sufficient to dress themselves" and "Susie buys her clothes in the 'chubby' section. Do you like her wardrobe?" and "Aunt Jess obviously doesn't care if her children die of melanoma but I do." you don't say those things. You bite your tongue and say, "Different families have different rules" and plan to take a solo vacation next summer.

5. Audiobooks Rock.

I may be one of the few holdouts that has not succumbed to movie screens in my car. As a result, we have become devotees of audiobooks. This summer, through our extensive road trips all over the east coast, We completed Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and The Lightning Thief.

So as the summer ebbs away like so many low tides, I shall embrace fall. The cashmere, the beaujelais nouveau, and much socializing with my Dear Graces, whom I missed sorely during my travels, will ease the transition.

Welcome Back everyone!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Michael Vick vs Mike Sweeney, a Grunt and a Grant

I don't usually delve into the Wide World of Sports, but recent events have forced my hand.

In yesterday's season opener, the Philadelphia Eagles lost to the Green Bay Packers. The Eagles also lost Kevin Kolb, their starting quarterback, to a concussion. The backup QB, Michael Vick, was handed the pigskin.

This is not going to be a diatribe about Vick's stint in Leavenworth, you can take as given my strong disapproval of his canine abuse. Rather, this is a rant about his utter lack of sportsmanship, respect for his injured teammate and petulance in the face of a strong personal performance in yesterday's essence, a flagrant violation of The Etiquette Code.

Impressive, right?

But watch what he said about it.

The thing is, Graces, that he didn't need to mention that had he started the game the Eagles would have won. If you watched the game, that is obvious--whether Andy Reid will take his oversized head out of his holy playbook long enough to realize that remains to be seen. But that's not the point. Vick sounded like a bitter, spoiled malcontent who is sorely in need of a reminder that there is no "I" in Team. Not Nice. Almost makes me miss T.O.

Compare Vick's Gruntly comments to another Michael's, a Grant to be sure....Sweeney, a backup utility Phillie started at first base when a slumping and frustrated Ryan Howard was deemed in need of a day's rest by the incomparable Charlie Manuel. Despite the fact that Sweeney had a spectacular game, he behaved like the utmost Grant in his post-game interview....

Now THAT'S what I call living by The Code.