Friday, October 29, 2010

Help-less Houseguests

Dear Grace:
Last Christmas we had a house full of my spouse's family. Unfortunately, the in-laws did very little to help out during this hectic time. I want an easier holiday this year but they're all coming back. (Don't ask). How do I diplomatically suggest to my in-laws that they should take us out to dinner one night or help us clean up?

Grace says:

I find it astonishing and alarming that house guests do not automatically offer at least one night off for the hosts whether it be taking everyone out to dinner, treating for takeout, or even cooking a meal or two themselves. But if it were automatic, then I might be out of a job. So....

Here are several suggestions, starting with the gentle hint and moving to sledge hammer:

1. After dinner is eaten, don't move. Remain at the table and see if anyone lifts a finger to clear the dishes. We'll cross our fingers that the hint is received, but based on your letter I foresee at least the need to move on to step 2...

2. Ask nicely. Say, "Sue, Bob, would you mind helping out with the dishes? I need to bathe the kids/order some last minute gifts/finish my holiday cards/chew on some nails so I don't drive them into your skull. I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed and it would really lighten my load. Thanks." Then leave the room and do exactly what you said you had to.

3. Don't cook one night--make reservations or order pizza. Let your guests know these plans and, without overtly asking, provide ample opportunity for them to pony up. Don't immediately reach for the check when it arrives. See if they want to ride with you to pick up the take-out, or have them answer the door when the delivery arrives. Passive aggressive, yea. But effective, quite possibly.

4. Bring in reinforcements. Invite a friend for dinner who is willing to loudly and assertively state that the cook should not have to clean up. Embellishments involving your status as galley slave and good guesting practices optional.

If the maid thing is in your repertoire, waiting on your in-laws hand and foot may not be exactly what you had in mind. Here's another example of the maid thing gone awry which made me chuckle.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Thanks: Three Out of Four

As a Grace, I am a pretty big proponent of the traditional thank you note. But these little gems of correspondence are becoming scare, what with the level of social formality decreasing, and the digital age in full swing. But in the past few days I have witnessed some examples of different types of thank yous--and I have to admit, most demonstrated their own special brand of Grace.

1. I had the good fortune to attend a cocktail party on Friday evening at the home of a friend. In lieu of the traditional host gift (wine, candles, coffee--all great, by the way) I opted for something different. Under the guise of "he's giving me dinner tonight so I'll feed him tomorrow" I made him a batch of macaroni and cheese. He emailed me over the weekend--the heading contained one word: "Yum!" and the following picture was attached. Now the truth is, he wasn't even obliged to say thanks beyond the verbal utterance when I bestowed the tray upon him Friday evening, so this was Grantly plus, and the mode certainly had panache. Well Done, Grant R.

2. Last week, I sent a couple of books as a first birthday gift for a friend's daughter. I received a prompt thank you note in the form of a very cute, striped, fold-over card. When I opened the card, there were pen scribbles all over the inside--along with a "translation" written at the bottom thanking me for the awesome books. This totally worked for me--ok, ok, it wouldn't be ideal for your boss who sent the savings bond or Tiffany spoon after your child's Christening/Bris--but for a friend or relative it was sweetly informal and very cute. Also suited the personalities of both the baby and the mom. Kudos to Grace B and Mini-Grace S.

3. A neighbor was recently notified that her driver's license had been found at the grocery store. The good samaritan was still shopping, and said she'd be there for another half hour or so. So grateful was my friend that she did not fall victim to identity theft, or worse, have to visit the DMV, she grabbed a box of chocolates from her gift stash and raced to the market. When she met her savior, she expressed profound thanks and presented her with a small box of Ghirardellis. Needless to say, the woman was astounded. This reminded me of a Major Grace Tip: Keep a stash of all purpose gifties for times like these--scented candles, bars of hand milled soap, jars of jam or salsa, chocolates, novelty note pads, modest gift cards for ITunes or Starbucks, bottles of wine. This way, you'll never be caught off guard with a forgotten birthday, and you'll have something on hand in the event that someone does you a good turn and you want to reciprocate with a little something extra. Nicely done, Grace M.

4. Doubtless you noticed the title of this post as "Three Out of Four". So here we are. I am indebted to one of my loyal readers, Grant J for bringing this last one to my attention. Apparently there is a service for hire that will produce hand written thank you notes. I am reluctant to provide the link, because that seems to promote this practice, but I am confident that no True Grace would ever patronize them for personal correspondence. I grant this: they recognize the value and need for handwritten thank yous. I also grant that when building a business, the personal touch of a hand written note to new clients may get you a second order. And you are so busy designing scarves, formulating marketing plans, building websites, staining furniture, or icing cupcakes that you don't have the three minutes it takes to write said note. So, The Grace gives a pass on one very narrow sliver of acceptability in using this type of service. If employed strictly as a business development tool in the absence of time and staff to write the notes in house then it's ok. Not Gracious, but not dreadful, and Graces must entertain pragmatism at some point. But the minute you outsource the thank you to Aunt Tillie for her birthday gift or the condolence note for your neighbor's mother, you are officially on the Grunt List.

So, the moral of the story is, say thank you. There are lots of ways to do it, and as long as it's prompt, sincere, and thoughtful, you'll stay in the Good Graces.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Forbidden First Date Foods

I was recently asked about foods to avoid on first dates. Now, it's been awhile since I embarked on a first date, but some things never change. First dates can be nerve wracking enough without worrying about the food on your plate (in your teeth, down your chin, over your shirt and the lingering fumes they may expel hours later.) Much better to focus on your charming conversation and witty repartee--or if things are not going as you'd hoped, a quick and clean exit strategy to cut your losses.

With that in mind, here are Grace's Guidelines on Foods to Avoid....There are three basic classifications of food that present problems on dates. They are:

1. Foods likely to stay where they shouldn't, i.e on your teeth. This class includes things like spinach, mint/parsley/cilantro, seaweed, poppy seeds, sesame seeds, and even coarse black pepper. If the date is going well, you will doubtless be smiling frequently. The last thing you want in such situations is an unsightly patch of green adorning your incisor. That's why Graces always carry a small mirror and some dental floss in our handbags. To be used in the privacy of the ladies' room.

2. Foods with ill after effects. Garlic, onion, and whiffy cheese are delicious, but save them for your pals or a later date. You really don't want to emit toxic fumes as you move in for the first kiss. But sometimes it's unavoidable; if you are dining at a trattoria, garlic is going to be part of your dish. That's why Graces always carry mints in our handbags.

3. Foods that are impossible to eat without a struggle, a mess, and/or a two handed grip. Unless you are at a lobster or crab shack, try ordering something that does involve wrestling. That said, be a sport. If you are at a barbecue pit, you are going to have to tuck into the ribs. Ordering a small side of cole slaw will guarantee that the first date is the last. That's why Graces always have a packet of scented wipes in our handbags.

Sure, Drew Barrymore and Justin Long can pull off a fab first date, even with errant wing sauce. But they are the exception to the rule. And fictional, I might add.

Keeping these three simple guidelines in mind as you scan the menu will ensure that your focus remains where it ought: on your companion and the crucial assessment as to whether or not s/he will be lucky enough to snag a second date with you.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Karma is a Bitch

So after yesterday's snarky post featuring my sister's harsh critique of my favorite raincoat I have the following rather eerie experience to report:

I began my day with a Yoga class, after which I raced home and buzzed upstairs for a shower, on the run to interview a chef for Philly Food Lovers. The day was fine, so I chose a stylish denim skirt, a pink, cotton, 3/4 sleeve tee, and my favorite red Prada Mary Janes. Both the skirt and the MJs were castoffs from my fashionista Sis (see yesterday's post). As I hurried to cram my still damp feet into the shoes, I snagged the strap and snapped it in half. Cursing loudly, I selected alternative (and far less fashionable) footwear and proceeded with my day. I met the chef, did the interview, went out to lunch, then completed a variety of errands, including Staples, Home Depot, the supermarket and school pickup. It was only after I returned home from all these locales that I discovered that the fly on my hand-me-down denim skirt was unzipped.

Does that seem wierd to you?

Monday, October 25, 2010

With Relatives Like This, Who Needs Enemies?

Two True Stories:

Had lots of relatives visiting this weekend, which included my fashionista sister. They had come, very generously, to support fundraising events at both of my kids' schools. The first was a 5K run at my son's school, after which we headed out to lunch, then to the fall festival at my daughter's school. Sis was in distress; she was forced to go directly from the run to the restaurant without a wardrobe change so her outfit was more fitness than fashion (though her in fitness gear is more fashionable than most people in Sunday Best). She asked me for a coat or something to cover up the ensemble. I scrounged through my closet, frantically searching for something suitably stylish. I found it: my ultra suede lavender knee-length trench--definitely a statement, a compliment magnet when I sport it, and probably the most expensive thing in my closet. I proudly handed it over and she recoiled, asking, "You wear that? Out?"

Later that day, pre-teen daughter came downstairs carrying an item of clothing. Apparently, a pair of my undies had erroneously been filed in her pile. She held them up and said, "Seriously, Mom, does my butt look this big?"

What's a Grace to do?

Laugh it off. And, of course, turn it into good material, be it for your blog, your stand-up routine, your cocktail party repartee, or a life lesson on 'what not to say'.

As far as the fashion remark, Sis can diss my wardrobe any day if she continues to hand-me-down her castoffs; last year's Prada (or Old Navy) selected by her keen eye is readily accepted here. As far as my preteen's snark, I'll fasten the old seatbelt. Those in the know tell me that this gets worse before it gets better. I may consider investing in body armor--I'll ask Sis--I think metallics are still in.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Email Oops

Dear Grace:

I received a strange e-mail from the husband of an acquaintance of mine. The contents of the message made it clear that it was not meant for my eyes--but that it had not been intended for his wife either. It referred to an X-rated encounter with his girlfriend! I didn't know the wife acquaintance well enough to pick up the phone and call and didn't want to meddle, so I just deleted the e-mail (after printing it out, just for laughs). A while later my acquaintance found out about the affair and sued her husband for divorce. I then mentioned the e-mail to her. Did I do the right thing in keeping quiet?

Grace Says:

Wow! That's a miscue on the "send" button if I’ve ever heard one. You were absolutely correct to keep mum on this salacious material. If the wife were a very close friend or sister, I would recommend telling her in a private, supportive way. I wouldn't recommend doing the same with a casual acquaintance. You never know who might be the type to kill the messenger, and you never know the intricacies of other people's marriages.

As far as the cyber-seducer, you had two perfectly acceptable options, one of which you wisely chose:

1. Let It Be. (Apologies to The Beatles for invoking their ballad thus.)
2. Send it back with a simple straightforward message: "Fred, this came to
me, obviously in error. Rest assured that it will go no further, but I
wanted to let you know that it went awry." (I would have been sorely tempted to go this route!)

Keep up the good work, Grace. And empathize with the wife. It really is mind boggling the level of indiscretion out there.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

You Don't Say

Dear Grace:
The other day I was given a vivid reminder about how to remark on people's appearance. I was with a friend who was wearing a wig, post-chemotherapy. A woman came up to her and kept saying: "My, you look SO different." She would not stop commenting on how different my dear friend looked (and clearly did not know the circumstances ). My poor sick friend had to slink off to the bathroom to have a good cry. Your thoughts?

Grace Says:

Where is a good muzzle when you need one?

Remember that old adage, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything"? Clearly this hag needs a refresher. (Ok, ok, I do love the version attributed to Alice Roosevelt Longworth: "If you don't have anything nice to say, come and sit by me." but that's not the topic at hand today.)

If you wish to remark on someone's appearance, be positive. Don't say, "You look different," say "You look fabulous" and move on.

Another minefield: avoid comparing a person's appearance to a celebrity's unless the celeb in question has been on People Magazine's cover profiling the Sexiest Man/Women Alive: George Clooney, say, or and Angelina Jolie . Pointing out a resemblance to Gilda Radnor from a Saturday night live skit or Weird Al Yankovich may offend. Keep that to yourself.

We joke about what comes from the mouths of babes and horses. We cringe at some of the things that come from the mouths of adults. I offer some general guidelines that should keep you on the Gracious side of the conversational divide:

Matters a Grace never brings up:
-Income. Hers or yours. (Only spouses and the IRS need know.)
-Bedroom antics. (If you disagree, this might not be the Blog for you.)
-Dietary Regimens. ("I never eat carbs/sugar/food; I'm watching my weight, but you go ahead.")
-Anything involving stirrups that is not in the equestrian arena. (Gyn appointment? Bikini wax? No details, please. In fact, no broad strokes, either.)
-Reproduction. ("You never had children? How sad." Or "Why?" "So, when are you going to make your twosome a threesome?" "Poor Johnny seems so lonely. He really needs a little brother or sister." "When are you due?")
-Age. (The only reason to ever ask adults how old they are is if you are selling them life insurance.)
-Expense. (It's no one's business what you paid for your Maserati. Or your mozzarella.)
-Less Than Marvelous Looks ("You look exhausted." "Have you put on weight?" "Rough morning?")
-Your child's brilliance. (No one wants to know. Really. Except perhaps the Princeton admissions office.)

Upcoming post: how to respond when someone sends a less than Gracious comment your way.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Dear Grace:
Would you please give your fair readers advice on proper fonts for emails, appropriate signatures and discourage use of all caps --I have a friend you uses all capital letters in her email and it makes it sound like she is howling at me. Some people use such odd fonts that their emails are difficult to read especially with smart phones!
Thank you,
The Font Fairy

Dear FF,
Thanks for your question. Here are some guidelines to ensure that you will be as Gracious in cyberspace as you are in the real world. Though judging from your letter, you're not the one in need of the advice.

  • My Top Five Tips for Gracious E-mails:
    1. Capital letters indicate that you are shouting at someone--do you really want to convey that rage across the DSL lines? Howlers are entertaining for fans of Harry Potter, not in e-correspondence.
    2. Smiley or sad faces made from colons, semi-colons and parentheses are the cyber equivalent of dotting your i's with hearts. I actually went to graduate school with a woman named Daisy who drew flower petals above her signature. Would you want to cash her checks? I vote "no" to nontraditional use of punctuation.
    3. Elaborate calligraphy is fine for your black tie wedding invitations. Not for the email confirming a dental appointment or carpool schedule. Email is primarily about convenience and there's nothing convenient about curlicues that make Ws indistinguishable from Hs, particularly on a small screen. There are plenty of attractive, legible fonts that do not require magnification or cartouche deciphering skills to read. Choose one. Ditto color; stick with black--dark blue if you must. Anything on the red side of the color wheel is a headache waiting to happen. Avoid it.
    4. My lawyer husband advises never to put anything in email that you don't want shared with others, saved for eternity, or used as evidence in a future lawsuit. His Gracious wife advises the same policy, but more from the standpoint of avoiding embarrassing social situations than concern for potential litigation. Same conclusion, different world view.
    5. Flared Tempers + Fast Typing = Friendship Termination. If you must sound off, send the email to yourself and reread it several hours (or days) later. If it still seems apt, then send. More relationships have suffered due to impulsive clicking than from stolen boyfriends, catty gossip, or workplace rivalry.

    If you are still stymied, refer to the handy little volume Send: The Essential Guide to Email for Home and Office by Schwalbe and Shipley. The holidays are just around the corner, might make a nice little stocking stuffer for your CAPITALIZING friend.
  • Tuesday, October 19, 2010

    Wardrobe Malfeasance

    Dear Grace:
    While I was attending a memorial service this weekend I walked in behind a woman who I fervently hoped was headed to the bathroom and not into the service. Instead she clomped in and sat down. Clomped? Yes, she was wearing chunky clogs, jeans, a t- shirt adorned with a trendy image and a slouchy back pack. When did funeral services get teen casual? At my mother's own service last year, I saw some astonishing outfits. One woman was wearing camo shorts and a t shirt. Her husband echoed her choice. She wore those trendy velcro excercize shoes. I know that the camo-velcro pair pretty much sticks to couture, and flies in a private jet, so I knew it wasn't because she DIDN'T have a choice. I was irritated by the lack of, yes, class, in the true sense of the word. It shows a lack of respect when you do not dress well for weddings, funerals, Bat Mitzvahs, etc. Another woman had on fishnets, a thigh high dress and sky high stilletos. Really? Was she going clubbing afterwards? Many of the men did not have ties on. I was flabbergasted. One of my dearest friends called me the next day and said: what happened to the dress code? I was reassured, at least that someone besides myself noticed this horrifying spectacle. Would you please give your gracious readers guidance on this.....I keep my funeral garb up prepped and ready with the dedicated heels--it doesn't take too much of an effort.

    Grace Says:

    Oh, dear. Grace and Jackie are doubtless rolling in their graves. Reading your epistle required a deep, cleansing breath followed by a strong, bracing cocktail. I now feel ready to tackle this alarming trend. What are we coming to? Here are some Gracious Guidelines on dressing for ceremonial events:

    • Funerals are somber occasions and attire should reflect that. Stick with black, navy, brown, charcoal gray. You can get away with a very dark green, burgundy or deep plum if the overall look is staid as opposed to fanciful (think Laura Bush, not Britney Spears.)
    • Any ceremonial event that honors someone else, be it a funeral, wedding, or christening, should focus primarily on the honoree. On such occasions, your attire should not scream "Look at me!". This is not to say that you must fade into the woodwork, but scene-stealing get-ups are out of place when the spotlight should be elsewhere.
    • I abhor athletic shoes worn anywhere but a gym, or while actually engaged in, or en route to, the fitness location. (If the camo/velcro couple stopped at the funeral to pay respects to the dear departed on the way out to hunt and hike this does not qualify as "en route". That is a topic for another day.) There is no place for such garb in civilian (and civilized) society.
    • Your appearance conveys your respect for the occasion; if you can't summon up the will to don an appropriately formal outfit then your attendance is questionable at best. If such is the case, stay home and send a cordial note instead.

    Just for giggles, I thought I'd share this list of Oscar's worst--even people who have staffs of stylists misstep occasionally.....

    Monday, October 18, 2010

    How Are You? (I Don't Really Want To Know)

    It's a rhetorical question, usually. We say it almost reflexively. We don't really want to know the state of your gall bladder or the latest chapter in your marriage horror story. But many people don't get that.

    The other day I was in the grocery store. In the Express line. That means 10 items or less and make it snappy. Happened to be standing behind a woman who I served on a committee with several years ago. At the time, we had a few overlapping social, civic and professional circles so saw each other frequently. Not friends, exactly, but acquaintances. Had not seen her for some time, and after a cheery hello, asked (ill-advisedly, as it turned out) "How've you been?". Yes, Graces, I know--strictest interpretation of the question would determine that I did ask. But we were on the Express Line. In a grocery store. You know where this is going. She told me. Yup.

    I got to hear about the death of the family pet. (The poor paralyzed peke had to be walked on a skateboard for the last months of his life, so I think it was a blessing.) The intricate details of the stomach virus that infected her entire family last week. The misery of her new job. (No sense of 'glad I've got one in the current climate'.) It was an endless, inappropriate emotional dump.

    Now, I'm not asking you to lie, exactly. We all experience ups and downs. You don't have to say that everything is sunshine and roses if you've been going through a bad time. But you don't have to spew your drama and trauma all over my groceries. Here are some appropriate responses in that situation:

    --"Well, it's been a rough couple of days/weeks/months but we're managing."
    Graces can then respond, "I'm sorry to hear that. Maybe we could have coffee or lunch sometime soon." During coffee or lunch, your beleaguered friend can update you and perhaps you can help in some way.

    --"This hasn't been a banner year for us, but it's nice to see you. How's everything with you?"

    --"I've been having some health issues, but I'm up and out today so that's good. How've you been?"

    Less ideal but better than my grocery line mate:
    --"Not exactly perfect supermarket chatter, but I'm going through a divorce. I'll catch up with you next week and fill you in."

    So you see, it is possible to be truthful without abusing emotional space.

    If you are on the receiving end of one of these effusions, you have a couple of escape routes:

    --"Gosh, that sounds awful. Why don't I call you later and we can plan to get together. No sense in sharing your private biz with everyone in the supermarket."

    --"I'm sorry to hear that. I certainly hope things turn around for you. Here, let me help you with your bags." (Note clever strategy here; by helping with the bags you are essentially ushering the misery-hemorrhage out the door.)

    The other alternative is to simply remove the question "How are you" in all of its forms from your conversation. Greet others thus:

    --"Good Morning, Fine weather we're having."
    --"Nice to see you."
    --"Great coat/shoes/hat/bustier. Love the color!"

    But beware, Graces. It's harder than you think. "How are you" sneaks out like teens on prom night. Avoiding it and its associated risks requires ceaseless vigilance and a hearty draught of Grace and Grit.

    I leave you with this cautionary illustration of TMI gone beyond my wildestfears....

    Friday, October 15, 2010

    Movie Munching Madness

    Dear Grace:

    I was at a movie matinee yesterday and the person in the row in front of me brought in a full lunch--and it stunk! Throughout my viewing of The Social Network, I smelled a greasy burger with onions and french fries, and heard loud chewing and slurping. It totally ruined my enjoyment of the film. I moved farther away from the eater, but we were in a small theater and I could still smell (and hear) the entire repast. What do you recommend in such a situation?

    Grace Says:
    Wasn't The Social Network great? But even the brilliant Aaron Sorkin's screenplay couldn't salvage your cinematic adventure with this horror show. I see two options in this case:

    1. Cover the smell. One of the 'don't leave home without it' items in my handbag is anti-bacterial gel (or wipes). It generally emits a relatively pleasant scent--better at least, than the odor pervading the theater from your neighbor's pastrami sandwich, say. Take the gel or wipe and hold it in the general vicinity of your nose. This will mask the food smell, and hopefully get you to the credits without nausea.

    2. Tattle. It is possible that the theatre has a policy against bringing in food from outside. Incidentally, I disagree with this policy and often violate it--but not with burgers and fries. I am repulsed by the portions, selections, and prices of most movie concession stands, so I have been known to smuggle in for my kids small bags of homemade popcorn, juice boxes, lollipops and gum. You will notice that none of these items emits an offensive smell and are a far cry from a full fried meal.

    2a. If and when you tattle, you may want to request a refund or voucher to see the movie another time. This is not ideal, of course--you may have arranged your work schedule, babysitter, or other logistics for this particular day, and the movie may be nearing the end of its run. But it beats repulsion.

    For those of you who choose or are forced to dine in public places not specifically designed for gustation--airplanes, the workplace (offices, shops, salons, etc.), in carpools--be mindful of your selections. No one wants to sit on a plane next to a sausage sandwich, or have a haircut amid the aroma of pickled herring. If you must consume your repast in such a place, think about the fumes--a turkey sandwich, non-whiffy cheese and fruit, maybe some yogurt and granola won't asphyxiate anyone. That should be your goal.

    Wednesday, October 13, 2010

    No, Thanks

    After yesterday's post about Menu Management, I got to thinking about the flipside of that dilemma. What if you are the guest who can't/won't eat what is on offer?

    I was in this awkward position several years ago. I attended an event honoring educators in our city, which featured a banquet celebrating Chinese New Year. Around that time, I had done a favor for a family who lived in Chinatown and whose children attended school with mine. During the banquet, the mother, who was helping serve the feast, asked if she could make me a plate. It was generous of her to offer and it was clear that she wanted to do something nice for me in response to my previous good turn. Of course, I accepted her kindness. Imagine my dismay when she ceremoniously presented me with a carefully carved pig's ear--apparently a prime cut and an honor reserved for special guests.

    Now, I'm certainly no vegetarian, and, being married to a southern boy, ribs and other robust cuts do not deter me. But an ear? This was extreme. The expression "in a pig's ear" came to mind, but clearly that was not the mot juste.

    What's a Grace to do?

    Well, we fake it. Remember the value of the little white lie? Drag it out in full regalia here. I thanked her profusely, hacked off a nugget, and sent it down the hatch. Fortunately, her duties as co-hostess required her to be elsewhere pretty quickly, so I was not under her watchful eye for more than a bite.

    In the event that you are seated at a table with food that simply does not work for you, take small portions and move the food around on your plate. You will not endear yourself to the hostess by declaring as she offers you the offal stew that you don't eat innards.

    Much better to say something like:

    • "I had a working lunch today and my boss does not take 'no thank you' when offering the tray around. He takes it personally if you eat less than a 12 inch hoagie, so I had an enormous and late lunch. Bad luck, but unavoidable. I'd just like a tasting portion since I'm still pretty full."
    • "I ate so many of your delicious appetizers, I am almost at capacity. I'll just have a tiny scoop so I can save room for dessert--I hear your pastry is legendary!"
    • "I'm not a huge meat eater--no worries, honestly. I'd love some more potatoes, though."

    Tuesday, October 12, 2010

    Menu Management

    Remember that hilarious episode of Modern Family when Cameron tries to bond with Gloria by eating spicy food? He takes a bit, then sprints from the table shouting "I feel like I ate the sun!"

    Well, the scene is riotously entertaining on tv, but we don't want it played in our dining room at our next dinner party. If you are hosting a cocktail party, you need not worry much about the menu--presumably you will offer a variety of nibbles and your guests are not expecting a meal. If you are serving an actual meal, however, you want to avoid a food flop--or your guests seeking an emetic or fire hose after they ingest your masterpiece. There's nothing worse than half of your guests declaring an allergy to shellfish as you as you unveil your shrimp scampi, or an aversion to spicy food as you slice the chili-glazed rack of lamb.

    Here are some ways to avoid this nasty scenario:

    --- Check with your guests ahead of time. I always send an advance email around to my invitees asking about dietary restrictions or strong aversions--some specific foods that people tend to avoid, either because of allergy, religion or personal preference are: seafood, pork, beef, lamb, nuts, chili peppers, mushrooms, and organ meats, so take a poll if these are featured on your menu.

    --- Always, always, always have a several choices on the table. If you are offering meat or fish as a main course, provide ample sides (salad, bread, an interesting vegetable and/or starch option) so that vegetarians can partake without feeling slighted. This practice also avoids your rustling up an omelet as everyone else tucks in to your filet mignon. Regardless of your menu, options are key--a chili-laced vegetable curry sounds divine to me, but some folks don't eat spicy food. Good thing there'll be basmati rice, naan, lentils, and salad for them.

    And this video really isn't about menus or chili peppers, but The Office cracks me up. They mentioned a rather unorthodox use of spicy food here, so I thought you might get a giggle....

    Monday, October 11, 2010

    Facebook Error = Rampant Rumors

    I have discussed the etiquette perils of facebook before. I had not, however, been involved in a Facebook debacle that provided significant grist for the local rumor mill and called into question the health of two marriages, one being my own.

    Here's the story....

    My friend C and I have launched a food blog on behalf of our beloved Reading Terminal Market. We were hard at work yesterday, and as we trucked along, we had opened a variety of windows on her computer, which involved an equal variety of logins. When we completed our tasks, we shut the machine down and went about our day.

    Later that afternoon, C jumped onto Facebook and sent a direct message to a mutual friend, inviting her on a double date. Little did she know, we had not completely logged out, and C was still logged on as yours truly. So the invite came from me, tagged with my name, and asked the invitee to join me and J on a double date. Trouble is, I am married to M. The invitee, I'll call her D, then sent me a direct message responding to the invitation, and inviting me to a gourmet pot luck. Interestingly, she did not refer to my seemingly suspicious choice of companion, which I suppose was rather Gracious of her.

    I was a bit baffled by the whole thing, so I pondered for a moment. Right about then, C figured out the snafu, got in touch with both of us, all of us had a good laugh over it. Fortunately, no catastrophic consequences ensued, but it certainly taught me a good lesson about logging out!

    And a few other issues arose out of this contretemps:

    1. The invitation issued to me by D is called into question; she may have invited me in response to the double date invite that seemed to come from me, but didn't. What's a Grace to do? Well, an invitation is an invitation. RSVP promptly and either go with gusto or decline Graciously.

    2. I am going to have to have a word with the hostess; she is a marvelous cook and I have no doubt that the evening will indeed be 'gourmet' and supremely elegant, but she needs to eliminate 'pot luck' from the headline. Graces strenuously avoid events described as 'pot luck'--the term conjures up scary images of molded Jell-o and tuna casserole.

    3. In general, when you receive a message that seems to be intended for someone else, it's best to alert the sender ASAP. A version of "I'm not sure this was intended for me", "wrong number?" or "???" do the trick.

    Be careful out there, Graces. The real world is enough of a minefield; now we've got to worry about Cyber-space, too.

    Friday, October 08, 2010

    Thank You Gifts, the Non-Food Variety

    Dear Grace,
    My son's day care worker is a terrific young man who has been exceptionally kind to us. He has gone the extra mile to take very good care of my son, provides me with frequent updates, makes sure favorite toys are available, and supports our potty training efforts. I would like to do a little something for him to express our gratitude. My normal course would be to bake him some cookies or buy him lunch. In this case, I hesitate because the guy is very overweight. What do you suggest as an alternative?

    Grace Says:

    First off, kudos to you for wanting to recognize another's Graciousness. You are setting a great example for your son and in a more Machiavellian vein, ensuring that the excellent care will continue.

    I understand your desire to avoid food in this case--though it is not your responsibility to police this chap's caloric intake. Fortunately, there are several Gracious alternatives:

    1. A pair of gloves or mittens as winter approaches
    2. A few pocket sized containers of hand sanitizer--working with small children all day means lots of germs! For a guy, go with unscented or something like cucumber. Avoid florals.
    3. A homemade CD--even though everyone uses Ipods these days, a CD helps build the recipient's music library, and this can be a really personal gift--make sure your son picks some of the songs and helps decorate the CD cover.
    4. A gift card to a coffee shop, book shop, or Itunes.
    5. A pair of novelty socks.
    6. Write the gentleman a note expressing your gratitude and recognizing his efforts. Be sure to list all of the ways that he has helped your son and your family. Often, a heartfelt and sincere note can mean far more than a material item.

    If you have found a facility that serves you and your child well, hold fast. The alternatives may not be great....

    Thursday, October 07, 2010

    Roy-alty in Philadelphia

    There are few things less Gracious than a sore loser. Baseball fans saw a glaring example of this last night when Cincinnati Reds' Orlando Cabrerra complained about the umpiring in Roy Halliday's nearly perfect game.

    Sorry, Reds. When you are up against a super hero, you are unlikely to prevail.
    But you do yourselves no good whining about it.

    Friends In Need

    Dear Grace,
    I have been out of touch with an old friend for some time. No drama, just lives got busy and we have not seen each other in several months. I recently heard that he and his wife have gone through a rough time (not their relationship but other sad events) and I would like to reach out to them. I don't want it to appear that I learned this through third hand gossip (although I kind of did--it wasn't malicious, just "have you heard...."). How do I approach them without making this worse?

    Grace Says:
    It is always Gracious to reach out to Friends In Need. If your heart is in the right place, which it obviously is, you won't likely make it worse. Common sense will prevail, of course. Don't invite someone who recently lost a loved one to Cancer for a viewing of Terms of Endearment; don't shove baby pics under the nose of a couple struggling with fertility, don't discuss your fabulous new promotion with someone who has just been laid off--but no Grace would ever do such things.

    Choose which of the following suits you and your relationship..whether via email, FB, phone, snail mail or smoke signal and say....

    "Bob, I happened to speak to Bill the other day and your name came up. He mentioned that you and Sue had been through a rough time and I just wanted to let you know that I am thinking of you and wishing you well. If there is anything at all I can do--visit, drop off a meal, take Sue out for coffee, meet you for a drink--really anything, please let me know."

    Depending on how "Bob" responds to this overture, further Graciousness may kick in.

    Plan to be there for your friend, whatever that may mean. Some people crave company and need to be surrounded by loved ones throughout their ordeals. Others find solitude more restful. If your unsure, ask. I just read an article on Cancer survivors, and all of the subjects reported that what they craved most from their friends and family was to be treated normally--not to dwell on their chemo, their cell counts, and their symptoms. They wanted to chat about their hairdresser's latest romantic disaster, the book you're currently reading, a neighbor's unfortunate liposuction operation, politics and current events, Lindsey Lohan's latest indiscretion, or the new fall shades of lipstick.

    Wednesday, October 06, 2010


    Dear Grace,
    I was at a party recently and the hostess served fruit with cheese before dessert. The trouble was she served the whole fruit and did not provide knives. I felt uncomfortable biting in, so I passed, but I really would have enjoyed an apple with the cheese course. Other guests were seemingly not bothered; many bit right in. Your thoughts?

    Grace Says:
    Tucking into a whole fruit at a picnic, out of a lunchbox in a school/work cafeteria, or in the orchard while picking? Well, that's just fine. At a sit down dinner that is formal enough to warrant a cheese course, never. The idea of diners biting into whole apples like suckling pigs is enough to, well, smear my lipstick, which is exactly what happens when you attack fruit in this fashion.

    Aside from the aforementioned exceptions to the rule, fruit should either be cut before serving, or offered whole with appropriate utensils. It would have been perfectly acceptable for you to request a knife in the above scenario.

    Remember that hilarious Seinfeld episode when everyone was eating candy bars with cutlery? Loved that show!

    Tuesday, October 05, 2010

    The Grunts of Facebook

    Depending on who you ask, Facebook has somewhere between 100,000,000 and 400,000,000 users. That's an awful lot of people and a true cross section of the world. This means a wide variety of usage styles and a panoply of posts. Graces use Facebook to keep in touch with people, to share interesting, witty, and relevant information and to promote business and other professional ventures. Grunts use it to broadcast inanity, obscenity, and overly personal information.

    Here are Grace's Seven Deadly Sins of Facebook:

    1. Boring. No Grace would ever bore her friends. Why then, do people feel entitled to spout on about their household chores? I'm not the least bit interested in my own laundry; why would I want to read about yours? Ditto what you had for breakfast, where your dog peed, and whether you are feeling energetic or lethargic at a given moment.

    2. Boozing. Unlike cheese, pasta, and good company, Facebook and wine do not mix, at least not in excess. Beware of indiscreet posts; they are admissible in a court of law, not to mention the water cooler corner at work tomorrow. Do you really want your boss knowing who spent the night with you and what s/he wore?

    3. Boasting. You know who you are. There is a fine line between sharing good news ("I'm so proud of my daughter, she worked really hard this semester and made the honor roll" "Leaving for vacation tomorrow-can't wait to see Paris--have been looking forward to this trip for years!") and bragging ("My son is the smartest kid in his class and doesn't even have to study. He's a chip off the old block." "Jetting off to Paris again. It will be a refreshing change from Prague, where I've been for the last month. Look for me at Chanel!").

    4. Oversharing. Keep your medical information to yourself. Aside from you, your significant other and your doctor, no one needs to know the results of your Herpes test. Ditto the details of your colon surgery or your brow lift gone awry.

    5. Misleading. Of course we want to put our best feet forward, but that pic from 10 years and 15 lbs ago.....come on.

    6. Posting Inappropriate Content. This includes obscene, racially/ethnically charged material, the personal info of others, or just mean-spirited gossip.

    7. Philandering. Ok, so there's nothing wrong with a little bit of harmless cyber-coquetry, right? Trouble is, it's a slippery slope. Marriage counselors report that Facebook was a factor in 20% of the divorce petitions filed in 2009. I'm not here to dispense marital advice, but clearly the ease of interacting on Facebook makes infidelity, at least in the emotional sense, a little too convenient seeing as shaved legs, lipstick, the buying of drinks and opening of doors are not required. If you find yourself spending more time in facebook flirtation than with your significant other, please take a long hard look at both. Signing off now to go say hello to my hubby.

    If you have the misfortune to have "Friended" a FB Grunt, I highly recommend a break-up. Thank you,

    I also liked the following, a rather amusing and sardonic assessment of Facebook comments and their translations. Thank you,

    And finally, a BBC parody....very funny, but for those of you who eschew vulgarity, a trifle offensive. Enjoy or ignore...

    Evading Attention From a Married Man

    Dear Grace,

    What is the appropriate response to an acquaintance's husband being overly attentive? He hasn't made a pass per se, but I have the feeling that one is coming. Help!

    Grace Says:

    I lived through a similar scenario a few years back when an architect who was doing some work at a friend’s house started giving me some very focused attention. Naturally, he was more this: Than this:
    But that's beside the point. As it happened, I knew the guy’s wife and kids and had met him a few times; as it also happened, he didn’t realize that (since guys like him rarely pay attention to the lives of others). I nipped the inappropriate interaction in the bud by asking the lecherous troll how Ann, Johnny and Susie were doing. He looked aghast, and was staggered when I reported that I knew them since my kids went to the same school. Needless to say, he sputtered, gurgled, and couldn’t exit stage left quickly enough. This strategy certainly works, and you can customize it to your situation, essentially changing the subject to remind the lech that he is married and you are not in the market for his type.

    Try whatever version of these fits your situation:
    1. "Ann looks so lovely tonight; you sure are a lucky man"
    2. "Congratulations on Johnny's winning goal in the soccer game. My husband is an assistant coach."
    3. "Ah, there's my husband/boyfriend/girlfriend/bodyguard. I don't believe you two have met?"

    And of course, you can try to avoid him, but instances will undoubtedly arise when exposure to this Don Giovanni is unavoidable; in such cases, use the buddy system. He will be far less likely to grope/ogle/proposition you with an audience. When DG lurks, make sure you have your significant other, a fellow Grace or a live human of some sort (the building custodian, the event caterer, the local axe murderer) nearby to buffer. If he does circumvent these measures and manages to make an overture, ignore it. Excuse yourself as quickly as possible to the bar, the buffet, the rest room, and go back to keeping your distance and employing the buddy system. If he actually makes a grab for you, be immediate and firm with a variation of "Not if pigs fly and the ocean turns to honey."

    Pepper spray can be effective, too.

    Kidding. Sort of.

    Monday, October 04, 2010

    Party Guests Scanning The Crowd

    Dear Grace,

    I hate it when I am at a party or social function and the person I am talking to is barely paying me any attention while he (or she) scans the crowd for someone "better". Any suggestions for handling this unpleasant situation?

    Grace Says:

    I feel your pain, my dear, for I suffered a similar fate recently. There I was at a lovely cocktail benefit at the home of dear friends. I noticed the host scanning the crowd frantically and beelined to offer assistance. He was searching for his wife as the guest of honor had arrived. Host was understandably reluctant to abandon the g-o-h, but wanted his wife to help welcome the esteemed gentleman. Grace to the rescue. I sent host and g-o-h to the bar and perused the assemblage for the hostess. Found her, and whizzed over. She was mid-convo with an older D.A.R. type, so I politely excused myself and informed her that her hostessing duties were needed STAT. She introduced me to Mme. D.A.R. and sped off. I prepared to slide into cordial chatter with the dowager, but was disconcerted by her immediate gaze over my shoulder, in search of more prominent or illustrious company. I had just about gotten out "nice to meet you" when she held up her glass, clinked mine, said "Good Luck to you", summarily dismissed me and was gone. Frankly, I was gobsmacked.

    I guess I have to give the old trout credit; she certainly didn't subject me to those inattentive "mm-hmms" while she scanned the gathering for someone likely to advance her social position. Her exit was downright surgical, not to mention abrupt and just about rude. But I prefer her method to the disconcerting experience of being in a conversation with someone who is constantly looking past you for the companionship of another.

    Kinda like Sean Penn here at
    Elton John's Oscars Party....

    But to answer your question....If you find yourself in the position of second fiddle or worse, simply excuse yourself. You don't deserve it, and the creep demeaning you thus doesn't deserve the privilege of your company. There are a number of effective escape hatches--nature calling, need to call home, or my personal favorite, the empty glass. I am a big proponent of keeping my beverage about 1/3 full at parties. This provides me with a handy evacuation route to refresh my drink. And, if the gathering is full of bores, boors, and boars, you won't run a terrible risk of overindulging even if you have to repeat the procedure several times over. Slugging down 1/3 of a drink in order to rescue yourself is something you can repeat a few times before becoming a risk to self and others.

    And things could be could be trapped at a party with these guests:

    Friday, October 01, 2010

    Don't Ask....

    Dear Grace,
    What is the correct response when asked "Have you put on weight?" I have a few ideas, but they would not receive a PG rating.

    Grace Says:

    What a hideous question. Unless asked by your physician behind closed doors, bound by medical confidentiality and truly related to your health, then it simply should not be asked. But Graces know that. If you are unfortunate enough to be in the presence of someone with conversational skills that permit such an invasive probe, then you have a few possible responses, listed in descending order of Graciousness:

    1. Good heavens, I wouldn't dream of boring you with my vital statistics. How is your Pekingese/Pinot Noir/Peach pit collection?
    2. I don't discuss medical information with anyone but my doctor.
    3. Have you?

    I would be tempted to force the offender to listen to the following song for hours on end, but that is definitely out of the bounds of Graciousness.