Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Happy Holidays

Ok, Graces, this holiday wish and sign off is coming a bit early this year, but I recognize my limitations. I'm thoroughly enjoying the hustle and bustle, and I know that I won't be posting from now thru the new year.

Got a huge kick out of this Hanukkah song, which was played in my Spin class this morning:

Candlelight. Click it, honest, you will crack up.

And Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without my beloved Bruce Springsteen's version of Santa Claus is Comin' to Town.

So, my dear Graces, Happy Everything. I'll be back in Jan.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Holiday Gifts for Kids

Dear Grace,
I have four siblings, all of whom have at least two kids. I have no kids and one salary. How do I gracefully reduce my gift giving? I want to be a good sister and aunt, but I've started to dread birthdays and holidays.

Grace Says:

Suggest the following arrangement with your sibs: Once there are children involved, presents go to them only. This way, you are being both a good sister and aunt, and keeping the cost manageable. You're making your sibs' kids happy...which should make your sibs happy in the process. Give the grown-ups cards and/or things like homemade goods or coupons for a night of babysitting. Let them continue to buy things for you if they wish...until you have children of your own.

Dear Grace:

I'm a clueless but well meaning uncle. What can I give my seven year old niece for Christmas that won't make either her or her mom hate me?

Grace Says:

I love questions from well-meaning uncles. Especially ones who realize that we moms might not always agree with our daughters about what's cool or appropriate.

Some great options in this situation:

A charm bracelet. The first occasion, buy the bracelet and one charm (there are fab options online, most big department stores sell charms, or you can go upscale for the bracelet and first charm and do Tiffany.) For any or all gift occasions after that, you can give a charm that says something about her life at that point. My goddaughter, now 8 years old, has an extensive collection of charms that recall milestone memories in her life: a bikini charm for the year she learned to swim, a chihuahua charm when she got a puppy, a tutu during her ballet phase, a tiara for her princess obsession. This Christmas she's getting a microphone to commemorate her recent performance in her school's musical production. (Much as I adore my niece, I thankfully live too far away to attend. I'll watch the edited version of her scenes when I see her on Christmas.)

A book/toy combo. This is great for boys, too. Amazon.com or a good bookstore clerk can tell you what's hot and intelligent for the recipient's age group (you should have an idea whether the child is on the more- or less- mature-for-her/his-age end of the spectrum- ask the mother if you need to). Mom will love the book. We hope the kid will, too, but kids will never complain if you add a toy that's somehow connected. Like The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane with a stuffed bunny. The wonderful yet overlooked Ozma of Oz with a bling-y crown/tiara. Big Truck and Little Truck with a toy truck. Lily's Purple Plastic Purse with, I bet you can guess. The Invention of Hugo Cabret with a toy robot.

Or put the two together: a book with a charm: a copy of Charlotte's Web with a pig charm. The Spiderwick Chronicles with a fairy charm or a little key to go with A Secret Garden"...

Happy Holidays, Graces. Remember, it's the thought that counts, even if the kids haven't learned that yet.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Grace on TV

I was asked by Good Day Philadelphia to share some tips on gift giving. So I did....

Friday, December 02, 2011

Gym Etiquette 101

Gym Etiquette is the topic of the day...and you know I am a huge fan of Modern Family, so I couldn't resist posting this clip of Mitchell doing "Troga".

I know I have talked about this scourge before. Here too. But rudeness at the gym continues, and a reader requested a refresher on Do's and Don'ts. So, here are a few friendly (or not so friendly) Grace reminders...

  • Wash your gym clothes regularly. Seriously, there seem to be some people who operate on the theory that "they're going to get sweaty anyway so why bother?". This is patently gross and wholly inconsiderate of the people around you.

  • Respect personal space when you are passing fellow gym-goers at work. When people are stretching, lifting, planking, and otherwise contorting their bodies in the quest for lithe and fit muscles, do not walk by them in close proximity. Their pose or hoist may be precarious and if they twitch to avoid you they risk injury to them and you. Give a wide birth to people engrossed in serious (or not) reps.
  • Similarly, don't get any closer than is absolutely necessary during exercise. If there's only one treadmill free, and it's immediately adjacent to a fellow jogger, then you must take it; if there is an alternative, choose it. Ditto at Yoga, Spinning, Pilates, Tai Chi, or any other class. No one wants to breathe your sweaty fumes or inhale your exhalation.
  • Consider your attire. I don't care if you look like Victoria (or David) Beckham. Your abs are your own business, we don't need to see them no matter how proud they make you.

  • There's simply no Gracious way to address this, but a reader specifically asked for this one to be mentioned....If your body has a need to emit a malodorous fume, remove yourself to a private space--ideally the loo, but if that is not practical, at least to a less populous zone. Better yet consider a home workout or perhaps an outdoor jog if you seem particularly 'bubbly' on a given day.
  • Treat the locker room as your personal valet space. In other words, don't lay out your products from hair gel to foot cream across every surface so that others have no space to prep.
  • Hog the equipment. Bully for you if you plan to do supersets with increasingly large dumbbells. But consider the fact that other people want to do reps, too. Do your set, put the weights back, and grab the next increment. I promise, your biceps will still bulge, even if they have to wait 30 seconds between sets. Ditto the cardio or weight machines--remember that lesson you (should have) learned in Kindergarten about taking turns?

At this time of year, especially, we're all fighing the battle of the bulge. So be Gracious out there!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Things I am Not Thankful For

So the day of gratitude has come and gone. And hopefully your Thanksgiving was wonderful: gathered with loved (or at least tolerated) ones, sharing a traditional meal, pondering the things for which we are thankful. All good.

But what if there were a day on which we were given the chance to express the things we are NOT thankful for. In essence, the things we would like to eradicate.

I'll start. Here's my sixpack:

1. People who litter. Now, I am not by nature a violent person, but seeing a person toss his gum wrapper, or worse, a cigarette butt onto the sidewalk, makes me so aggravated I almost want to commit assault. Hmm...would that be aggravated assault?

2. Cell Phone Grunts. I know I've addressed this before. Here too. But the scourge continues.

3. Discourtesy in general. This is a mighty broad topic, but let's narrow it to the basics: say please and thank you; hold the door for someone; say excuse me when you inadvertently bump someone or unavoidably invade personal space; respond when addressed.

4. Superiority Complexes. Ok, so Dr. Freud might not sanction this as an actual term, but you know what I mean. People who think they are better than everyone else because they do Kung Fu-Hot Power Yoga-Boot Camp-Sprintathons/eat only organic seaweed harvested by blind Malayan fishermen/drive a Hummer (or Prius)/wear couture/belong to (or eschew) a certain club....and the list goes on. Do what makes you happy, provided it doesn't hurt anyone else, and shut up about it!

5. Hypocrites. I think I would prefer Thanksgiving dinner with a terrorist or mass murderer than I would a hypocrite. Especially one with a Superiority Complex.

6. Lack of Humor. Can we put all the humorless people together on one miserable island and make them watch Modern Family until they learn to laugh? Impractical, I know, but I bet it would work.

What are some of the thing you aren't thankful for?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Thanksgiving Etiquette Dilemmas

If Thanksgiving Day is here, can etiquette dilemmas be far behind? Here are two challenging scenarios and how a Grace would handle them.....

It's noon on TG. The turkey is still in the sink. It's still frozen. You have twelve people arriving at 4:00.

First of all, Remain Calm. No situation ever improves with panic or loss of temper. One way to expedite the thawing process is to put the frozen bird into a large sink or tub and run cold water over it. This is not instantaneous, and your dinner will still be delayed, but it will speed things up. If that's insufficient, or your guests have planes to catch, make some phone calls--most towns have a few reputable take-out food purveyors and you might get lucky and locate an unclaimed turkey, even at this late hour. Whole Foods, gourmet grocers, caterers, the local deli, even Boston Market might rescue you. You can also try restaurants and hotels. Anyplace that is vaguely American or Continental is serving turkey today and might just sell you one--for a price. If that fails, head to the grocery store--most are open for at least part of the day. You can pick up a few turkey breasts (not frozen!) and turkey legs, and roast them the same way you intended to roast the iceberg currently not thawing in your kitchen sink--but much, much faster. Alternatively, Chinese takeout is a viable option. No matter what route you choose, keep your sense of humor and hold your head high. These things happen, even to Graces, and what separates us from the Grunts is how we handle them.

Here are some more troubleshooting turkey tips:

Your adult brother and sister aren't speaking (really not speaking, like one walks out of the room when the other appears), but are both coming to family TG.

Ain't families grand? As a host, it is well within your scope to require civility from guests, particularly those related to you by blood. Call the siblings ahead of time. Express understanding and empathy (even if it's manufactured) for their respective positions. Then ask (firmly) that they suspend their hostility for the day in the spirit of Thanksgiving and for the comfort and ease of their fellow guests. They don't have to be teammates--or worse, opponents--in the family touch football game. (Under the circs, it might be best to bench them both.) They should be required to summon up a small degree of civility. Call the more reasonable of the warring parties. Tell him/her: "I am getting ready to call Bro/Sis to demand that (s)he behave at my Thanksgiving table; will you agree to a 24 hour cease-fire?" Make the same call to the other one, hopefully with the ability to say "I have already spoken to X. S/he is willing to suspend open combat at Thanksgiving. I hope I can count on you for the same." If the two of them are absolutely unwilling or unable to make this temporary adjustment, you are absolutely within your rights to request their absence.

OR.....Invite them in shifts. Have Sis for dinner and Bro for dessert. Inform them both that you are staggering their visits to avoid any explosions over the turkey.

So, Happy Thanksgiving, Graces!

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Kardashian Divorce, No Etiquette Required

Much as I am horrified by this shameless escapade, I have to weigh in. There seems to be significant confusion with regard to the gift aspect of things, so here are some observations....

One school of thought dictates that a gift is a gift. Regardless of what the recipient does with it, or what the result of the bestowing occasion may be, you've handed over the item and neither it nor its fate are in your hands.

There is another school of thought, however, that says if a wedding is a ridiculous sham whose sole aim is a 72-day long charade designed to generate publicity, revenue, and loot, then said loot should be returned to the apparently duped guests.

Because a wedding celebrates the union of two people as they start a life together, and the gifts are intended to help the couple equip their home. Clearly Kim and Kris's wedding does not fit this description. (Would he have still been selected if his name had been Chris, I wonder.)

And no, I am not putting up any pictures of them.

Channel 3 asked my opinion; here's what I said.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Answer Me!

I don't want to sound sexist, but I have a new pet peeve and the guilty parties on this one tend to be male. I've informally polled my Grace posse, and the testimony is overwhelming.

Here's the scenario:

Grace: "Grant, I'm heading out to the store, I'll be back in an hour." or "Grant, while you're in the kitchen, will you please give the soup a stir?" or "Grant, the lottery called, we won ten million dollars."

Grant: " " [The empty quotes indicate total silence.]

Grace: "Grant? Grant?" [Volume increasing] "Grant? Did you hear me???" and I have officially become Estelle Costanza.

All I ask is a response. I don't even care much what it is. Any of the following is acceptable, in decreasing order of preference:

"That's wonderful, Grace. Be sure to buy yourself some new shoes today."
"Ok, Grace"
"Copy that."
"10-4 Good Buddy"
"Sorry, that doesn't work for me."
"No can do."
"No &*^%$ way."

But the absolute silence puts us Graces in the unenviable position of ascertaining whether our message was received. If there is truly an auditory complication (loud music, hearing loss, eccentric neighbor's ill-timed chemical explosion) then Grant is not at fault; Graces simply repeat the statement at a slightly higher volume when the sonic boom ends and await a courteous (or at least spoken) answer. But if there is not a legitimate reason for the lack of response, and the silence continues, it is absolutely Gruntish to force Grace to transform, unwillingly, to the Untamed Shrew.

So answer us, guys. It saves time, trouble, and aggravation.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Get Well Gifts

In the last week, it seems like every time I turn around someone's kid has been injured. Friend's son sustained concussion playing football. Niece needed 34 stitches as a result of a go cart accident (no point in debating the wisdom of placing a 9 year old in the driver's seat of a used and questionably operational vehicle and pointing her downhill; what's done is done). Another friend's son severed a tendon and required hand surgery. In cases such as these, the Graces among us do our best to provide aid, comfort and amusement.

Here are some Gracely Tips....

1. Send the kid a gift--preferably something that will amuse him in his convalescence; books, puzzles, arts and crafts, solitaire games, a DVD (though not for the concussed; they are supposed to avoid too much brain stimulation--consider a hat for the injured head, a fun pillow on which to lay it, a very calming audiobook or cd). Clearly they will need to occupy their time in ways that do not involve their normal activity. Things that do so are invaluable to them, their spirits, and their parents (who are doubtless riddled with worry, wracked with guilt, and stressed with the effort of taking care of the injured party) .

2. Deliver food--this can be a full dinner for the family, a lunch for the mom and/or the invalid, a small packet of treats for the child.

3. Provide respite--offer to drive carpool for the mom, take siblings for a playdate, cover 'snack day' at preschool, or sit with the ailing kid for an hour or 2 so mom can run some errands.

And for heaven's sake, let's be careful out there. Accidents happen, (believe me, I know) and kids are resilient, but let's prevent them from becoming.....

Monday, October 03, 2011

That's the Ticket!

As this post is about tickets, I couldn't resist....

With fall upon us, there is a lot of chatter about tickets. Most cultural entities--orchestras, museums, theaters and dance companies launch their seasons at this time of year; baseball is starting the playoffs, football season is in full swing, and basketball is just around the corner. As most of these require tickets, and few attendees go solo, there is serious potential for etiquette breaches in the ticket realm.

One ticket conundrum that has recently been brought to my attention by a Grantly Friend involves the use of 'comped' tickets. For the purposes of this anecdote, I will refer to him as 'GF', though this is not his real name. In GF's profession, he is frequently offered free tickets to cultural events, which he then, as a Grant, shares with his friends if he is unable (or unwilling, as in the case of many performance art shows) to use them.

In general this is a lovely scenario in which everyone is happy. GF does a good turn for an Opera Loving Friend by giving him costly and hard to procure tickets. OLF is thrilled with the opportunity to enjoy his passion at virtually no cost. GF is overjoyed to avoid a night at the opera, far preferring a baseball game. The Opera Company is glad to spread its wealth to influential GF and to avoid the shame of an empty seat. Win win win.

But here's the rub: if OLF accepts the tickets and does not use them, everybody loses. GF has egg on face because his seats are empty, plus he feels badly that the Opera Company has forgone cost of the tickets by not selling then. OLF has wasted the tickets which might have easily been offered to another OLF. Moral of the story: if you accept tickets (whether the giver has paid for them or not) be sure to use them. It may well be that the OLF was less invested since he knew the tickets were comped, but this is irrelevant. If you won't be parking your bootie in the seat, make sure someone does. Let the original ticket holder know that the tickets are up for grabs asap so there is a chance he can regift them and save face for everyone.

Here are some additional guidelines....

  • If you are invited to a concert, game, or play as a date, you should not be expected to reimburse the ticket costs. [If that is the general formula of your current significant other, you may want to rethink your choice.] It would, however, be Gracious to pony up for refreshments or other incidentals during the evening.
  • If you are invited by a friend, colleague or other non romantic peer, and their intentions on the costs are not clear, offer to pay for the ticket. In general, the 'inviter' covers the ticket costs but playoff games are steep, times are tough, and you don't want to presume. If he doesn't accept your offer to pay, great, but be double sure that you kick in for other costs--food/drink/parking, etc.
  • The best way to avoid confusion, and I'm talking now to the 'inviters', is to be clear at the outset.
  • If you want to treat, say: "Dan, I have two tickets to the National League Division Series tomorrow. Want to come? It's on me." or "Susan, would you like to come with me to the Museum's opening of the Degas exhibit as my guest?"
  • If you don't plan to pay for everyone, say: "Dan, I bought two tix to tomorrow's game; they were $87 each, do you want to come? No pressure; I won't have trouble selling the spare, but I know you're a huge fan and it should be a great game." or "Susan, the Degas exhibit opens next week. Tix are $25. Shall I get us a pair? We can settle up later." Once you mention the price, it should be abundantly clear that you are not planning to cover costs.
Have you had any ticket snafus yet this season?

Monday, September 26, 2011

How to Be a Grace When Someone Storms Out

Dear Grace,
I hope your foot is healing well, and everyone continues to be kind and helpful during your recovery and beyond!

I/we have been put in the uncomfortable position of having someone walk out of a group outing in what seemed to be a huff, and now won't return messages asking if things are ok. We've all been there-you're with a group, someone gets upset about something and walks off, leaving you to figure out why the person left and whether it's better to stay with the group (especially if you're the host!) or run after the huffy departee to try to figure out what went wrong.

I'm wondering what a Grace is to do in this situation, as I am sure that it will happen again eventually, and I want to be prepared in the future.

Many thanks,
All Huffed Out

Dear Huff,
Thanks for the good wishes; still in progress. Recently liberated from crutches after 4 looong weeks, but still have 4 weeks in the walking cast. Progress is progress; I'm thrilled with the newly gained mobility even if it involves an ugly boot and slow, wobbly motion.

But onto your dilemma.

Those who storm out are rarely Graces, all we can do is diffuse the erupting drama. If your guest has left the building, say something like: "Gosh, Jenn must be stressed out, poor thing. I'll give her a call tomorrow. Who's ready for dessert?" The key is not to let the eruption shanghai your gathering. If "Jenn" has simply left the room, you can excuse yourself and say, "Jenn seems really upset, let me go check on her. Anna, you were mentioning how much you enjoyed the season premiere of Modern Family, carry on." In the event that Jenn decides to return with you, continue diffusing--either by just rejoining the group and resuming normal conversation, or, if Jenn chooses to apologize for her outburst, lead the forgiveness charge, "No worries, Jenn, we've all had bad days from time to time. We were just talking about Chapter 7 when the contessa reveals herself to be the scullery maid's daughter. Were you surprised by that twist?"

The way of the Grace is to keep the get-together moving with the least amount of disruption and NOT allow the tantrum thrower to become the center of attention--either for good ("poor jenn, let's organize a girls' lunch to cheer her up") or for ill ("jenn is such a $#@&; I can't stand the way she acts."). It's oh-so-tempting to launch a dissection of Jenn's character, emotional state, personal life, and tendency to make grand exits with the remaining guests, but this is neither Gracious nor particularly fun. Much better to redirect, by means of conversational adroitness, refreshments, or a lasso, the original intent of the event.

As to your current situation, even Graces have limits. If you have made a sincere effort to reconnect and Tantrum Tess is not receptive, then give her some time. She may be genuinely steamed about something, or she may be mortified by her behavior. Good friends and Graces move on. After the requisite supportive overture (phone call/email/visit) offering TT a chance to talk it out and yourself a chance to apologize if indicated, then give it one more pass with a clear message that you have moved on: "TT, I'm going to X on Friday and I'd love for you to join me. Let me know if you're interested. If you need some time, I understand. Give me a call when you'd like to get together. Hope to hear from you soon." This puts the ball squarely in her court and lets her know that you are not dwelling on the episode.

Alternatively, if these grand displays are a regular part of your friend's interaction, you may want to rethink the friendship. Everyone has a bad day now and then, but if this is frequent and disruptive, you don't need to endure it. I'm not advocating that you shun her, like some ancient and bizarre religious cult, but you might decide to gradually reduce your exposure. Life is complicated enough without unnecessary controversy.

And speaking of dramatic exits, I leave you with my all time favorite entrance maker: Kramer. Gosh, I loved that show.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Eleven Things Every Grace Should Have in Her Handbag

My husband calls my purse "the magic bag" because it contains pretty much everything you would need for basic survival until the Canadian Mounties arrive. But it's not one of those mammoth satchels that you could hide a body in. My handbags are of sensible dimensions in tasteful colors and materials. And they always contain the following:

  1. Lipstick or gloss--you really don't need to carry your entire cosmetic collection--a fresh coat of lipstick gives your whole face a lift.
  2. A mirror--this is not merely vanity. You may need to check your lipstick application, or you may need to hand the mirror to someone to retrieve spinach from her pearly whites--no Grace wants to be directing traffic from incisor to bicuspid in pursuit of the elusive, recalcitrant vegetal fragment. You can compactly merge items 1 and 2 by procuring a snazzy little lipstick case with an interior mirror--very handy and stylish. Mine is fuchsia silk.
  3. Shout Wipes or a Tide pen. I have an embarrassing story to illustrate the need for these accoutrements, albeit one with a happy ending. I was nibbling on a homemade coconut chocolate truffle one afternoon as I was walking out the door to an important meeting. I was thrilled to be wearing my fabulous new ivory suit. Unfortunately, as I bit into the truffle, a sliver of chocolate covered coconut fell and landed on my ivory skirt directly above my left knee. Fear not, Graces, for the magic bag came to the rescue--ever equipped with Shout Wipes, I whisked one out, blotted out the unsightly brown smear, and made my meeting, stainless, and with minutes to spare. [NOTE: hand wipes or baby wipes work equally effectively in crises of this sort].
  4. Dental Floss. Sharing the embarrassing story about the coconut truffle reminded me of another embarrassing, though illustrative anecdote about dental floss. Several years ago, I had the good fortune to visit a lovely Moroccan restaurant and partake of the lobster tagine. Unfortunately, the 3rd bite of lobster lodged itself firmly and painfully between two of my molars. I immediately excused myself to the rest room to address this unpleasant situation. Since I was carrying an evening bag as opposed to my usual "magic bag", I did not have sufficient supplies. I tugged and worried at the lobster fragment with my tongue and my fingernails as I searched frantically for a small, pointy object that would remedy the problem. Eureka! I pulled the diamond stud out of my ear and began prodding. Catastrophe! The diamond earring joined the lobster fragment and got stuck there as well. Fortunately, after much effort and agony, I managed to dislodge both foreign objects, returned to the table and resumed the meal carefully. But ever since, I have been sure to carry a small spool of dental floss.
  5. Mints--that luncheon Caesar Salad was delicious, but you don't really want to breathe its fumes on the target of your afternoon pitch.
  6. Tissues--please use the contained purse packs--the polka-dotted or leopard prints are cute, but not necessary--just avoid the stray, crumpled tissues swimming around in your bag; even if they haven't been used, how would one tell?
  7. First aid kit, including two heel-sized band aids for New Shoes days. (You can find small versions of these at any pharmacy--they seriously are smaller than a sandwich.)
  8. Pen and Notepad
  9. Ibuprofin and Antacids (these come in containers the size of a chap stick so are easily portable.)
  10. Anti-bacterial gel or wipes.
  11. Emory Board
What's in your handbag?

Monday, September 12, 2011

I'm Not Your Personal Google Search!

Dear Grace,

I have a ... friend, let's call her Cindy. Cindy and I were close in college, but in the five years since, our relationship has dwindled. Things began to drift away when Cindy stopped initiating or reciprocating acts of friendliness: social phone calls or emails, meeting up for dinner, invitations to gatherings, etc. We now see one another only at friends' functions, and since Cindy is socially competitive, I tend to give her a wide berth at these events.

There is, however, one notable exception to Cindy's apparent lack of interest in our relationship: she likes to call me when she needs a recommendation. ANY kind of recommendation: restaurants, wine pairings, travel destinations, a hair stylist, health advice, etc. She contacts me 2-3 times a month, and only because she wants something (i.e.: she usually doesn't bother to make polite conversation or ask any personal questions). Of late, I've been screening her calls, giving her vague answers to questions, taking my time responding to her emails or texts if I respond at all, and generally trying to give her the impression that I'm not interested in being her personal Zagat guide. She is not, however, taking the hint.

Any advice? I would love ideas about how to graciously let her know that if this keeps up, I'm going to have to start charging for my services.

fatigued friend

Dear FF,

I understand your frustration, and you have managed it in the best way possible. Graces avoid scenes at nearly all costs, but your friend is making that increasingly difficult. You have two options:

1. Continue on your current course. Ignore the calls and emails; whether or not she takes the hint is up to her; you can simply delete the message and forget about it. A variation on this theme is to respond with no information: "I don't know of a good Thai restaurant in town, sorry," or "I can't recommend a dog groomer for your high-strung Peke," or, "No, I don't know of a cost effective way to vacation in Hawaii; if you find one, please pass it on to me." If you dry up as a source, she may simply stop contacting you.

2. Speak up. "Cindy, I haven't heard from you for weeks.....not since the last time you needed to find a 24 hour pharmacy for Alka Seltzer at 2am." That is not terribly subtle, so it should get the point across. If not, you can either use a version of the strategy outlined above, or go further: "Cindy, I'm not your personal search engine. Concierge services run about $40.00/hour; maybe you should hire someone." This is the less Gracious course, but even Graces can only be pushed so far. This remark will undoubtedly put a cease and desist on the pesky calls, but could invite retaliation. You mention that Cindy is socially competitive; if vengeance is an arrow in her quiver, you may want to opt for the low key approach in choice #1.

One aspect to consider, this from a more generous angle. Cindy's competitiveness likely stems from insecurity, as does her apparent inability to choose a restaurant, order wine, or take an aspirin without your approval. She clearly trusts and values your opinion and admires your ability to make good decisions. This is not to talk you out of Options 1 and 2 above, but just another way to view this less-than-Gracious conduct by Cindy.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Shower Invite=Gift Grab

Hello Ms. Grace!

I’m not sure if you remember me, but I actually wrote to you a few years ago about sending a wedding gift to a friend, and never receiving a written thank you note, and instead – a text message. You wrote a little blog post about this horrible incident and agreed that it was a case of bad manners.

Fast forward three years, here I am again, writing to you about the same offender, with a new offense. I have had sparing contact with this person since the text message incident. She and her husband live in the Minneapolis suburbs, and I have moved from Minneapolis to Los Angeles. I received an invitation last week… to attend her baby shower in Minneapolis… that is two weeks before my wedding. I knew that this friend was pregnant, and had planned to send a gift when the baby arrived, like a graceful person, but now… an invite to attend a shower? Really? I’m not a family member, and definitely not a close friend (reference sparing contact over the last 3 years)… why am I getting this invitation when I live over 2000 miles away and clearly cannot attend? I started looking at the baby registry (both of them) and saw over 400 items.

This is more than I have on my wedding registry. Now I’m just angry. Am I horrible person if I do not send a gift, and just send a card? Is this clearly a request for a gift since it is not possible for me to attend? Will the requests for gifts ever end? (I received THREE wedding shower invitations for her three years ago, despite, also, not being in the wedding or a family member or even living within driving distance.) What’s a Grace to do?

Looking forward to your sage advice,

Dear D,
Certainly, I remember you and your "text thanker" of a friend. (Pause for deep, cleansing breath.) First of all, No, emphatically, you are not a Horrible Person. That designation may be appropriate for another actor in this scene, but onto your dilemma....

I see she is up to her usual tricks, putting you in a Gracious dilemma. Instead of sending you an invitation to the baby shower, she should have simply sent you a birth announcement after the happy arrival. That would have been appropriate, particularly due to your relationship status, your geographical location and the rather momentous event you have on your near horizon. But her track record does not prognosticate that she would do the Gracious thing, and clearly she has kept to that Gruntly path. As you have been invited into an awkward situation, you have two options.

After promptly sending your RSVP regrets, you can:

1. Send a very modest gift (board book, bib, etc.) or a greeting card. She has done a yucky thing by inviting you and fishing for shower gifts, but you will do a Gracious thing by sending a small token or congratulatory card, which is the traditional response to a shower invite (however tenuous the connection may be.). This is likely what I would do--it is the path of least resistance, and Graces must often compensate for the Gruntliness in others.

2. Send nothing. This may be seen as a statement from your friend, but it sounds like at this point you won't shed any tears over a complete severance of ties. You're nearly there anyway.

The only word of caution in item 2...Graces try not to burn bridges; as a practical matter, you never know when you might end up snowed in at Minneapolis airport and need a friend--even one who texts thank you notes and trawls for gifts. Both 1 and 2 are completely acceptable; choose the one that feels right, and move onto more important matters, like your imminent marriage.

Congratulations on your impending nuptials; I am supremely confident that your wedding will be a Gracious affair; your intended is a lucky Grant of a Groom, I'll warrant.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Fractured Foot, Fabulous Friends

Deja Vu All Over Again. At least I had a pedicure the day I did this.

This is a post from 2009. When I redesigned the blog, I pulled down all of the old content and wondered what I might do with it. This post tells the sad tale of my broken foot. Even sadder, I repeated the injury last week, and then some. In addition to fracturing the same bone in my foot, I snapped another one, and bruised my ribs. It was a similarly Graceless move; I was walking down the stairs in the dark, missed a step and tumbled. Kind of like this:

Having emerged from a hazy, Percocet infused week, I realized that I had written a related tale on this very topic. If you've seen it before, my apologies. But as the Graces you doubtless are, you will give me a pass when I tell you that sitting and typing with bruised ribs is, well, not quite the medieval torture describe in lesson #1 below, but no fun. I'll be back in form soon. Meanwhile, I'll post when I can. Cheers.

Well, Graces, the picture tells the story. I am indeed laid up, on crutches nursing a fractured foot. The true tale of the spill is embarrassing beyond belief--I stepped off the curb, fell, and broke my foot. Here are some of the alternative versions I am working on:

--I was picking my daughter up at gymnastics (which is true; I was en route to the gym when I tumbled). Upon arriving, I was inspired to attempt a backflip off the balance beam and didn't quite stick the landing.

--While ice skating at the local rink, I found myself in a race with Apolo Anton Ohno. As I began to pull ahead, he stuck his skate in my path and caused me to fall. Given the swiftness of my pace, I feel quite fortunate that I escaped with a mere fractured Calcanius bone.

--While crossing the street, I saw a family of 4 enter the intersection, putting themselves in the path of a speeding city bus. With no thoughts of self, I jumped into the oncoming traffic, and shoved the family to safety. The speeding bus nicked my fleeting foot as it whizzed by, and fractured it.

I welcome further suggestions from you, Graces.

There are several things I have learned about life on crutches. I am happy to share them in the event that you find yourself in this unfortunate position:

1. Underwire bras and crutches do not mix. The underwire hits exactly below where the crutch does, pinching that oh-so-tender skin with every movement. But if you are anything larger than a B-cup, commando is not an option (all that hopping and bobbing associated with being a uniped becomes downright painful on the girls). I have opted for sports bras, at least until the crutches are done. While less figure flattering, at least I am spared the agony of constant pinches to the side-boob flesh. But I do miss my Fantasie bras.

2. I am in constant terror that my currently over-used posterior (all I can do is sit!) is going to spread to the width of my couch. Furthering this terror is the fact that it is impossible to wear normal pants with the cast. First off, anything but the widest flares won't fit over it, and secondly, I spend so much of my day with my leg raised on a pillow that I require the freedom of movement required by knits, not jeans. So I live in sweats (ok, they're pretty nice sweats but still) and the accompanying fear that I will outgrow all of my normal pants without even knowing it.

3. It is possible to exercise, sort of, with a broken foot. I spent about 45 minutes doing yoga stretches, crunches, bicep and tricep curls and other (hopefully) physique preserving moves this morning. As a person accustomed to regular exercise and the urban-dweller's recommended daily allowance of walking, my improvised gym session made me feel lots better.

4. Crutches have improved since the old wooden things associated with Tiny Tim. Mine are a rather attractive matte pewter shade, fairly light weight, made of tubular metal. If I didn't hate them so much, I'd like them.

5. Baths are preferable to showers. Balancing on a wet, potentially slippery surface on one foot, and then having to navigate your way out is liable to result in another broken bone. Much easier to sit on the side of the tub and slowly immerse yourself. Just be sure to drape a towel over the edge before you sit down. Cold porcelain and bare flesh are a bad combo, especially when sudden movement is considered high risk.

6. My friends are the greatest. One brought tulips and chocolates (feeding my fear of fatness, but also much enjoyed), another brought a delicious, healthy, not-too-fattening lunch and stayed to eat it with me. Company is what I crave most--if you have read more than 3 words of this blog you will know that I am a social creature and I wilt a bit after too much solitude. When I start obsessing about the position of the lamp cords in the living room, it really is time to move--even if it's just to another room. Other friends have taken my kids for meals, sleepovers, outings and assorted drop-offs and pick-ups. Another brought dinner. Roses. Groceries. Graces one and all. Would I sound biased if I pointed out that all of these friends were women? Perhaps these skills are governed by XX chromosomes only.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Shower Trouble?

Dear Grace,
I have a social dilemma, please advise....

My stepsister is getting married this fall. I am not close to her, we rarely see each other, and without digging too deeply into the family history, the dynamics are complicated and we have a difficult history.

I have been invited to her shower. I do not want to go, and I know I was invited out of obligation. My mom will be bugged if I don't go and I don't want to upset her, but going will upset me--or at least force me to give up a September Sunday to honor someone who I don't hold in high esteem.

I know I have to go to the wedding--I can't avoid that one, and there will be enough people there and sufficient distraction that the usual awkwardness should be minimized. I am, however, concerned that I might be invited without a guest. (I am in my 30's, currently unattached).

So, my question is twofold: (1) Can I bag the shower? and (2) How can I ensure that I am invited to the wedding with a guest?

Not-Very-Wicked Stepsister

Dear Sis,

In responding to your letter, I couldn't resist posting a Cinderella/stepsister clip:

But, on to your dilemma....
As far as the shower, you have two options:

1. Skip it. Make sure the gift arrives in a timely fashion and give something noncontroversial off her registry. If Mom objects to your sending regrets, you can be honest: "Mom, I have a hard time at these types of events due to the family dynamic. I am sorry that it bothers you and I respect your wish that I attend, just as I hope that you respect the fact that I simply can't do it. I promise to attend the wedding." Or you can tell a white lie: "September is a busy time of year at work/I am going to be away that weekend/I made other plans". The former is more like the 'rip the band-aid off quickly' approach--short term pain for long term gain--it may result in an argument now, but has the potential to reduce future demands. The latter will avoid an immediate confrontation, but ultimately propagates the problem.

2. Go. And there are sub-options in this category. A) Set your jaw and muscle through it like you have probably done before--which is admittedly not tempting. B) Give yourself a job at the shower. This has the potential to take you out of the crossfire and central action, but also reeks a bit horrifically of the Cinderella step sister phenom. By a job, I mean something like keeping track of the gifts, or taking care of Grandma, or assisting with the food/drink. If you are busy, you are less likely to be upset by the usual drama and residual historical hurt, but you also may resent being 'the help.' You'll have to decide which is better for you.

As far as the wedding, no Gracious host invites a 30 something to a wedding without a guest. If you think this is the plan, you need to sidle up to Dear Old Mom and take preventive measures STAT. Let her know that you are happy to join the family in celebration of the happy event, and that you are planning to bring a date/friend/guest so please make sure they factor that in to headcounts and seating charts. If you do opt for the direct approach in item 1 [above] that would be an opportune time to request the 'plus one' invite.

You seem to have done a good job managing this situation in an adult way--so it's important to remember that you are not responsible for your mother's happiness. While Graces don't deliberately spread misery or make scenes where there is any possibly way to avoid them, neither do they bear burdens that belong to others. Continue to liberate yourself from this and you will undoubtedly feel better.

Monday, August 08, 2011

UnGracious Typo Gaffes

I have recently begun doing some freelance writing--while not nearly as much fun as thesocialgrace or phillyfoodlovers, these gigs pay real money. These little job-ettes have taken the form of corporate newsletters, press releases, community bulletins, and some industry and sales blogs. Not surprisingly, the fun and interest level of each topic is in inverse proportion to the remuneration....but it keeps me out of the bars.

As a result of my taking on this type of work, my great uncle sent me some ab fab newsletter bloopers that he came across, all of which appeared in actual community/church/synagogue/ school/ organization/neighborhood bulletins, all of which should make their writers and editors turn an unflattering shade of red.

So, while grammatical, spelling, and typographical errors don't fall strictly within the bounds of etiquette, they overlap. You'll see what I mean; if you don't proofread carefully, you may wind up saying something offensive......or at least questionable.

Here, in all of their glory, are a selection of the funniest newsletter bloopers sent to me by my dear (and very funny) Uncle Herb:

Weight Watchers will meet in the Community Room at 7pm. Please enter through the wide double doors.

The school basketball team is back in action Wednesday at 8. Come watch us kill Christ the King.

For those of you who have children and don't know it, there is a nursery in the basement.

Scouts are collecting aluminum cans for recycling. Proceeds will be used to cripple children.

The Fasting and Prayer Conference includes meals.

Don't forget the town rummage sale. It's a chance to get rid of those things not worth keeping around the house. Don't forget your husbands.

Tonight's evening service topic will be "What Is Hell?" Come early and listen to choir practice.

The block party will feature an evening of great food, super entertainment, and gracious hostility.

Don't let worry kill you off--let the Church help.

The Low Self Esteem Support Group will meet Thursday in the community room. Please use the back door.

The 8th Grade will present Shakespeare's Hamlet Friday night. Don't miss this tragedy.

The Board Chair unveiled the new fundraising campaign slogan: "I Upped My Pledge--Up Yours."

The pancake breakfast will be held at the firehouse next Sunday. Please alert the committee if you are willing to loan them your electric girdle.

The Independence Day concert and sing along will be held Friday evening at 8pm on the village green. Bring a blanket and come prepared to sin.

Eric Stein and Rachel Miller were married on October 24 in the sanctuary. So ends a friendship that began in their school days.

Sunday's sermon topics are as follows. Morning service: "Jesus Walks on the Water." Evening service: "Searching for Jesus."

So, tell me Graces: Did you ever make a whopper of a typo, only to learn it too late?

Monday, August 01, 2011

Not Gym Dandy

So there I was at the gym last week, having dragged myself to Total Body Fitness class. This class is not for the faint of heart; I generally am weeping about 15 minutes in, but I force myself to muscle through for the sake of more fitness and less fatness.

A new student arrived a few minutes early and asked the regulars what the class involved. I refrained from saying "physical torture" and gave her a brief overview of the weights, body bars, core work and cardio that we generally endure. She asked me if jumping was required; I replied that sometimes there is, but you can opt for a low impact version if necessary. She seemed interested in the class and decided to stay. Little did I know, thus ended the potential for a pleasant and rigorous workout.

The instructor started us with a warm up jog around the room, the first of 11 five-minute intervals involving different exercises. NewGirl kvetched. Instructor offered her the option to power walk but asked her to stay in the inside lane so the runners could pass her. She adopted the first part of his directive only, much to the inconvenience of the rest of us. The next phase of the class began (a weightlifting segment) and she spent it giving us and the instructor a list of her injuries (back, neck, knees; I stopped listening at that point, but she went on for several more body parts.) Phase three of the class involved hurdle jumping and mini sprints. At that point, she started to storm off saying, "I can't take this class! I can't do anything you are making us do! This is no fun at all!" (Well, what did you expect, sister, a peppermint foot massage and a gin and tonic?) Her apparent departure should have suited everyone. Except for one Goody-Two-Sneakers who went after her and said, "Oh, no, please stay, we can ask the instructor to alter the class so you can do it."

Why, oh, why must people take steps like these to coddle the miserable, the Graceless, and the inconsiderate? We all would have been better off if Ms. Malcontent had just limped off into the sunset. Instead, the fitness-minded among us were forced to take a dumbed-down class, the instructor was forced to alter his program, and Ms. Malcontent was brought back into the fold by a well meaning but ultimately misguided (im)perfect stranger.

In situations like these, What's a Grace to do?

If I could have caught my breath enough to speak, I would have said:

"Gosh, I'm so sorry I steered you wrong about the class. The last thing you want to do is injure yourself again, what with your complicated medical history. We completely understand that you need to bail. Have a nice day!"

Monday, July 25, 2011

A Grace Walks Into A Bar.....

Ok, Graces, this is seriously one for the books. It requires a bit of background, so bear with me.

Earlier this week, I posted the following comment on my FB page: "Can we start a campaign to eradicate fanny packs? How about a back pack, messenger bag, sling, tote? Seriously, a trash bag would be more stylish." I got quite a few likes and comments, pretty unanimously agreeing with the proposal.

To elaborate, why would you do this:

When you can do this:Or this?

I was prompted to post the (arguably unGracious) comment after seeing a really glaring display of fanny pack faux pas by a gentleman who crossed my path. He was a large chap, which did not help things, and he had chosen a really unfortunate pair of shorts. Remember Cameron in Modern Family when he went through the bike shorts phase?

Accessorize that outfit with a fanny pack, and, well you get the picture.

Fast forward 2 days from the fanny pack fiasco to the record breaking heat wave. Grant hubby and I had plans to meet another couple for dinner at 7:30. GH came home from work at 6 and announced that he was going for a run. This despite dire advisories from health professionals about the dangers of heat stroke being broadcast from every media outlet.

My reaction: "I can't believe you went to Harvard, you are so dumb." (Ok, not the most Gracious remark, but the heat makes me cranky and I rolled the tape forward and foresaw that his plan was going to risk--gasp--tardiness, which puts me way past cranky, approaching livid.) Off he went, returning sodden but fine, but completely unable to stop sweating in time to shower, dress, and arrive promptly for our dinner engagement. He did have the good sense to look chastened and apologize, and I did have the good Grace to leave without him so that at least one of us would be on time.

I arrived at the restaurant, scanned the crowd for our friends, came up empty, and took a seat at the bar to await them.

The bar was relatively empty save self and a gentleman to whom I gave a cursory glance. He seemed vaguely familiar, but I couldn't quite place him. He quickly sat down near to me, said, "Hello" pleasantly enough, and then I placed him. It was the Fanny Pack Guy.

What's a Grace To Do?

Above all, be nice. Regardless of your attraction (or lack of) to said suitor it takes some guts to introduce yourself to a total stranger in a bar. He was courteous, pleasant enough, and even if I was not in the market, it was certainly a compliment to be approached.

I returned the greeting and said, "Sometimes it's a curse to be the prompt one. My husband is running late, literally, and the other couple we are meeting has not arrived yet." [Note strategic and immediate reference to husband; regardless of how vexed I was with my heat seeking spouse, I did not want to convey any implied interest or availability.] To FP's credit, he continued with some small talk and in due course the rest of my party arrived. As we exited the bar to have dinner I shook FP's hand and said, "It was nice to meet you."

Somewhere, someday I hope he will find a fanny pack wearing female that will share his cocktails. I feel sure that he will.

Doesn't it seem to you, Graces, that there's a Karmic message in here somewhere?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

What to Do When a Guest Invites Herself

This question arrived recently from a loyal reader....

Oh, Grace.... Advise me, please.

Several neighbors have gotten together to plan a block party. I was out this evening distributing the flyers, and saw a neighbor outside. He keeps an inconsistent schedule but is well known and liked and I was specifically told invite him. I handed him a flyer and mentioned the block party. There was woman sitting next to him who I'd never seen before. She asked for one, saying she lived a couple blocks away. I had only been given the exact number of flyers for our block, so I had no extras, and I explained that this is the first year to try the event so the organizers decided to limit it to just our block.

The woman said it was rude to invite him but not her (I knew this, but given my week long hunt for this elusive neighbor, I was willing to risk a bit of rudeness to get the invitation delivered.) She told me that she does a lot of community work and it's good to invite people from the wider neighborhood so they could all get acquainted. She even started rattling off names of people that she knows on my block. After emphasizing again that this is the first year we're doing this on our block, that we want to keep it small and see how it goes, I told her the date and said she could stop by, and walked away.

How should I have handled it? And why do people want to be invited to events clearly not intended for them?

With thanks,
Block party Block head

Dear BPBH,

That kind of pushy, preachy, know-it-all busybody really chips my polish, which is currently a rather fetching shade called Plumberry, recommended to me by my fashionista sister.

Allow me to pause for a deep cleansing breath and a rejuvenating sip of something to steady my nerves. Ok, ready to go.

You certainly landed in the soup--a living, breathing embodiment of the 'no good deed goes unpunished' adage.

I share your pain; I found myself in a similar situation last month with regard to the end-of-the-season softball pizza party for my daughter's team. Having offered to host the soiree and provide all food and drink, I invited the team and coaches only. I made this abundantly clear in the invitation email, and explained that I would wait at the door at arrival and departure times so parents would not have to park or take too much time with logistics.

Twelve of the 13 families understood, accepted, and abided by this; the 13th family showed up late: Mom, Dad, softball player and evil twin tots, and while I explained that they could pick Isabella up at 7:30, they looked aghast. The two little devils had already run into my house shouting for pizza. I stood firmly at the door and said I'd be sure to have their daughter ready so they did not have to wait. The mother looked mutinous, shouted to her demonic twins, "Damien, Sybil, we're not allowed to stay," and left in a huff. The thing was, if she received the email informing her about the pizza party's time and place, then also contained in said email was the fact that the invitation was only issued to the daughter with clear instructions on drop off and pick up. I found it most puzzling.

That night I, too, asked the question that you pose: "Why would people want to attend a party to which they are not invited?" It truly is a mystery for the ages, along the lines of "why do people still wear pleated pants?" and "where do the socks go that are eaten by the dryer".

But onto your dilemma....

It was awkward to invite the neighbor in front of someone else, but I understand your need to grab him whilst he was available given your description of his irregular hours.

One alternative would have been to fold the flyer and hand it to him, saying something like "I don't want to interrupt you, but have a look at this when you have some time and call if you have questions." Then walk briskly away, leaving Ms. Gate Crash no opportunity to invite herself. (Given her pushiness, I can't assure you that this would have worked). Or, say something like, "I don't want to burst into your conversation, but I've been trying to drop this to you--for your eyes only--and I haven't seen you in a few days." It wouldn't hurt to give him a little wink with the 'for your eyes only' line. The only other possibility would have been to skulk unobtrusively around until Ms. GC left, then rush the chap. But, given the fact that you are undoubtedly a busy woman, this suggestion might be impractical.

Once the cosmo is out of the glass and dripping down your blouse, as it were, all you can do is damage control.

Here are some suggested phrasings, in decreasing order of Graciousness, that you might have tried: (though, again, given her lack of Grace, I can't guarantee their efficacy.)

  • I really am sorry, but as it's the first time we're trying this event, we're limiting it to just our block. I'll be glad to take your suggestion back to the committee and let them know that there is potential interest for an expanded version next year.
  • I was given only the exact amount of invitations for our block, so I am sure that the event is for our block only. I apologize for handing this to Joe in front of you; I've been looking for him all week and he hasn't been here so I took the opportunity to deliver this to him now. Since I am just the courier, I didn't construct the guest list, and I'm not in a position to expand it.
  • Don't shoot the messenger.
  • I believe house #123 on our block is for sale. If you can close by Saturday the 30th, you're welcome to join us.
  • I am not in the habit of issuing invitations to total strangers, nor am I accustomed to being lectured on rudeness by someone who just invited herself to a party. Good Day.

But, ultimately, you were a Grace thrust into a gruntly situation, which hovered dangerously close to a scene. You know how we Graces feel about making scenes: chew the tongue off first. You avoided this and told her she could stop by. Unfortunately, the Way of the Grace can be a challenging one, for we are often forced to compensate for the bad behavior of others. But remember, the high ground is a better place to tread, even if it means we have to open the cooler for the undeserving occasionally.

I hope your block party is rollicking good fun, devoid of molded jello salad, and replete with conviviality. And maybe Ms. Gate Crash will come down with a summer flu or prodigious poison ivy. Fingers crossed.

Speaking of awkwardness around invitations, nobody does it better than Larry David.....

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Harry Potter meets The Social Grace

I am a big fan of Harry Potter. I think the books are worlds better than the movies, but I give the filmmakers their due; they've done an amazing job translating the material to the silver screen. With the opening of the final film this week, it feels like the end of an era.

Carrie Rickey of Flickgrrl fame offers a great take on the series here.

For sheer fun as the momentous day arrives, I thought I would compile a Gracelist--a list of imagined Gracious recommendations for the wizarding world to as they take their proverbial final bows...

Top Ten Transfigurations The Social Grace Would Like to See:

  1. Hermione, icon and muse for Insufferable Know-It-Alls everywhere, will learn to distinguish between the times to wave your hand frantically in the air to share your prodigious knowledge and the times to sit quietly and keep your own counsel.
  2. Someone will gently steer Luna Lovegood away from the cork necklaces and radish earrings in favor of more tasteful accessories.
  3. Ginny, Luna, Hermione, Lavender, Cho, and all the Hogwarts witches will realize that there will be a lid for every cauldron (if they decide they even want one). They will consider that the Harrys of the world may be famous, handsome and heroic, the Rons of the world are brave and funny, the Dracos of the world are rich but evil, and the Nevilles of the world eventually grow tall, shed their paunches, straighten their teeth, bring you incredible flowers, and will put themselves between you and a Death Eater when it counts.
  4. The Dursleys will read Gift Giving 101 and send Harry a ten-galleon gift certificate to Quality Quidditch Supplies as a thank you gift for saving the world.
  5. Hagrid will appear on "Queer Eye for the Straight Wizard", adopt Metrosexual grooming habits, and retire his horrible brown fur suit.
  6. Rita Skeeter's biography on Albus Dumbledore will be remaindered within a month of its release. A more accurate, honest, and positive version will be authored by Hermione and demand will challenge even the magical inventory at Flourish and Blotts.
  7. A percentage of the prodigious proceeds of Hermione's book will fund Hogwarts scholarships for young wizards in need of financial aid. Muggle borns, half bloods, and pure bloods may apply.
  8. Xenophilius Lovegood will resurrect The Quibbler as a slick, newsy, cutting-edge publication generating sufficient revenues to rebuild his house and get a decent haircut, with plenty left over to buy his daughter some fashionable jewelry and accessories (see #2).
  9. The Social Grace will be a regular column in the new Quibbler. After all, wizards need etiquette reminders, too!
  10. Harry will hire a competent decorator for 12 Grimmauld Place, and will transform the house into a warm, bright, beautiful, comfortable home in which to live happily ever after.

Monday, July 11, 2011

All Star Houseguests

With the All Star Game happening this week--I am an avid baseball fan--it seemed a good time to report on some all star houseguests who visited us at the beach over Fourth of July weekend.

Disclosure: they were not my guests, and a full house at the beach with our extended family disinclined me toward adding more people to the mix, but after their stay, I would gladly trade these guests for some of the regulars. Here's why:

1. They brought wine. Not just a bottle or two, but a case of really good wine. So good that my husband woke me up to tell me about it. The wine and the guests arrived late Friday after I had retired for the night. I was rather irritated with this disruption to my beauty sleep, but when I rose in the morning and saw the labels, I understood his urgent desire to share the good tidings.

2. They brought food. Not just a chunk of cheese, or some Gawd-help-us jello salad, but a bountiful array of delicious vittles: enough bacon, sausage and omelets to feed 20-odd people for breakfast, sufficient sandwich fixings as lunch for the same crowd; antipasti to whet our appetites for dinner that evening, and dessert to complete the meal.

3. Their kids were really polite, quiet, and compliant with the house rules. Not like other guests' children, who treat the living room like a jungle gym despite gentle to progressively harsh reminders from "Aunt Witchie" (aka The Social Grace.)

4. In addition to all of these tangible contributions, they were really nice, fun, and genuinely pleasant to be around.

This was, of course in stark contrast to many other houseguest horrors. Witness, these, all true tales, endured by myself or reported to me by my fellow Graces:

  • The guests who parked themselves on the sundeck like traveling royalty and expected three squares and an afternoon happy hour to be served daily.
  • The guest who recoiled in terror when she learned that the drink she was served contained ice cubes made from tap water. Ditto the guests who don't eat A-Z and expect your kitchen to disgorge the obscure organic/vegan/everything-free tree bark and sap nuggets that they are willing to ingest.
  • The guests who truly believe that the inner workings of their intestines are of pressing interest to all and sundry. Similarly, those who natter on constantly about their medical past, present and future.
  • The guest who insisted on bringing her non-house-broken dog. More on my *pet* peeves in a future post.
  • The guests who confuse "hosts" with "child care providers."
So, tell me, Graces, what are your Best and Worst Houseguest Experiences?

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

What to Pack for a Weekend at the Beach

Although I am a die hard city girl, nothing makes me happier than a day at the beach spent with a good book, a salty breeze, a big hat and lots of sunblock. Last week's post generated some specific questions on weekend packing, so in response....

Here is what I bring for weekends at the beach:

2 swimsuits
1 coverup
2 skirts (shorts or skorts can be substituted; I prefer skirts, even for casual gatherings, but that's just me.)
2 tops that mix and match with your chosen bottoms
1 sundress
appropriate undergarments
1 set of sleepwear
1 cardigan or wrap
2 pairs of sandals--one for the beach, one for evenings
Sunglasses(my new zebra print cat eyes adorned with rhinestones are my fave new summer aquisition--a birthday gift from my Grant of a hubby.)

1 exercise ensemble
book--I loved Melissa Jensen's latest release--perfect for girls from 14-104)

And, of course, don't forget your hostess gift.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Grace Sends You Packing

The summer season is upon us, rejoice, rejoice. This often means travel, weekends at the beach or lake, and consequent packing and unpacking. With this in mind, I have 2 words of advice for you, Graces: Travel Light.

I know of what I speak. I got a diamond engagement ring and the accompanying husband out of my ability to pack strategically. On a long ago, 3 week trip to Australia involving 4 distinct climates and activities that ranged from nights at the opera to hiking in the desert and snorkeling I managed one checked bag and one carry on bag. My then-boyfriend (who had brought significantly more luggage than I did) was so thrilled with this arrangement that he decided to marry me then and there. He proposed on the banks of Sydney Harbor, handed over a ring a week after we returned to the US, and by and large, we have lived happily ever after.

Here are my "Greatest Hits of Packing":

1. Roll, Baby, Roll. Just like Jim Morrison said in his iconic hit "Roadhouse Blues" (though in a decidedly different context). Remember the blessed day when the Girl Scout Camping Weekend Trip ended and you rolled up your sleeping bag? Duplicate that method with every article of clothing you pack. A friend's mother once transported a bridal gown using this method. I might not recommend it to this extent, but in general, rolling saves space and prevents wrinkles.

2. Jersey Girl. Whether you prefer the Tom Waits or Bruce Springsteen version (or Bon Jovi--who knew--it's bloody good!), jersey--and all knits--are a traveler's amiga. NOT, God Forbid, a sweatsuit of any fabric (even velour....make that especially velour), but attractive knit pieces. Cotton or silk tees and tanks, knit skirts and dresses, shorts and pants laced generously with stretch all arrive in wearable condition sans wrinkles.

3. These Boots Are Made For Walkin'. Make sure all footwear is comfy, versatile, and neutral. Leave the Blue Suede Shoes behind with apologies to Elvis, no matter how much you love them. And use space inside the shoes--stuff 'em with socks.

4. Back In Black--it goes with everything, can be dressed up easily, doesn't show dirt, and is slimming. What's not to love? If all black is too monotonous or somber for you, choose one or 2 accent shades that intermingle with everything. White is a no brainer, varying shades of greys and khakis work, or bolder, brighter hues of pink and green. Just make sure everything can mix and match.

5. Box of Rain--Bring your own in the form of an Evian Spray Atomizer. I refuse to board a flight longer than 90 minutes without one, and they provide a lovely refresher at the beach. Those clever folks at Evian make a handy 1.7 oz can, which will keep your skin hydrated while your fellow passengers and beachgoers dry up like those shrunken head dolls. Give yourself a spritz every hour or so.

Bon Voyage!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Party Guest of Honor Behaves Badly: Hostess Hell

Here's one for the books, Graces.

My friend Grace S generously hosted a party last week. She did so as a favor to a friend. Well, really a friend of a friend, who needed a place to screen her short film about how Jane Austen's novels affected her dating life.

Given the subject matter of the short film, S. wisely invited women only. I don't care how in touch with his feminine side your guy is--he does not want to attend a gathering like this one and the sizable withdrawal from the relationship favor bank that his attendance would require is not worth his reluctant company for the evening. Trust me.

S and her co-hostess assembled a bountiful buffet of appetizers, red and white wine, and pitchers of margaritas. They gift-wrapped copies of the film on discs for all of the guests, and arranged flowers decoratively throughout the house.

The guest of honor arrived in a dress that was smaller than the DVDs. Seriously. The back plunged so deeply that we were put in mind of plumbers crouching under sinks. The tightness of the dress screamed "anatomy lesson" more than "fashion statement." Her first question: "Where are all the men?" Kind of makes you wonder whom (or what) she had in mind when she selected her attire for the evening. Doubtless Jane Austen would have a wry and witty assessment.

When offered a drink, the honored guest requested red wine. S poured her a glass. Guest took a sip, put the glass down and asked, "Do you have anything else?". Oh, my.

What's a Grace to do?

Let's look from both sides:

Now, we've all been there--you're served something that you just don't like. (Though having attended plenty of gatherings at S's home, I know her offerings are always top notch.) In such cases, you simply carry it around until the host isn't looking and ditch the disliked potable in favor of something you like better. You never let the hosts know.

As far as the host is concerned, you smile warmly and say, "Of course. We have X,Y, and Z if you'd prefer any of those. What can I get you instead?". The high road is always a better route, even if it requires some teeth gritting as you travel it.

And speaking of Jane on film, nobody does it better than Emma Thompson. The acceptance speech she gave after winning the best adapted screenplay award for Sense & Sensibility is worth watching....(scroll ahead to :42 to skip the chaff.)

Monday, June 13, 2011

He's Late, She's Prompt--What to Do?

Dear Grace,
What is a Grace to do when one's better half is constantly tardy? When there is the option, is it more gracious to leave one's companion behind and make a timely entry solo (which makes one's partner look Gruntly upon his or her late arrival), or is it better to enter as a couple, even if late (which makes both of us look Gruntly)?
Thank you!

Grace Says:

Cattle Prods? Strangulation? Divorce? I LOATHE tardiness. But, I'm sure your chap has lots of other redeeming qualities, so, let's solve this one:

My best advice to you is to lie. While I normally advocate honesty in relationships, this goes into the 'little white lie' category, not the 'whopper' classification. You're not claiming to have paid the mortgage when you actually bought several pairs of Manolos, nor are you claiming to be drafting a sales proposal on the computer when you are carrying on a cyber-affair. You are simply ensuring that you depart for social events on time in the most painless way.

If you are due to depart at 6:30, tell him that you need to leave by 6 (or minus whatever his customary time deficit is.) I have the same situation with several of my family members. Last week, they were coming in for a 3pm event at my daughter's school. I told them it started at 2, and I still had to go by myself and save seats. They sprinted in as the music started, round about 3:05. Inexcusable, but after XX years, I know with whom I have the pleasure and I circumvent the problem.

As far as leaving without Mr. Tardy and letting him arrive in his own not-so-sweet time, I'm all for it--provided it doesn't inconvenience you in terms of transportation (having 2 cars at the destination), safety (walking out at night alone), or cost (paying two cab or train fares).

I hope these help! As always, thanks for writing and good luck.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

That Was NOT a Compliment

So there I was at Zumba the other day. You know how much I love Zumba, and you know that the class is rife with non-Graces, for I have detailed their antics before. This particular instance involved an acquaintance and fellow Zumba devotee who gave me what she clearly intended as a compliment but really came off--unintentionally, I am sure--as a barb.

To give you a bit of background: my customary gym attire slants more toward the yoga pants and not-very-fitted tee. I am not one of those bare-all types intent on displaying their parts to all and sundry. But last week, I happened to don more form fitting attire for class. It was hot, and I chose lycra capris and a ribbed tank. After class, the aforementioned neighbor approached me and said, "Grace, you have lost so much weight, I didn't recognize you!" Trouble is, I haven't lost weight--at least not much. Ok, I have been hitting the gym a bit harder of late in prep for beach season, but at most I've toned, lifted, and possibly slimmed down a bit. But not to have rendered me unrecognizable!

Another recent and similar experience:

I worked for months on a benefit to raise money for a local non-profit. At the gala, the organization's director approached me. He said: "Grace, you look so nice, I almost didn't recognize you." It's no wonder that his agency needed some help staying afloat.

What's a Grace to do?

I smiled, nodded, accepted the uber-gaffes as the compliments they were hopefully intended as and chalked the experiences up to good material.

Have you received any complimentary insults lately?

Friday, May 27, 2011

Breaking Away from Challenging & Demanding Parents

Dear Social Grace,

My adult siblings and I each live hundreds of miles away from my parents, and since none of us are in what anybody could define as a high-income bracket, visiting frequently is not an option. Visiting, period, tends to be difficult because one of my parents has an emotional disorder that makes any prolonged interaction unpleasant and damaging. The parent is not aware of the disorder nor the damage they consistently inflict, and is generally high-functioning in society, so the other parent will not push for any drastic therapy. As adults who have come to terms with our own needs for boundaries in this relationship, my siblings and I have chosen not to throw rocks at this particular hornet's nest.

It does leave us with interesting dilemmas when it comes to making sure that both parents feel loved and not abandoned. All of the siblings call our parents regularly (at least twice per month) and, for the past several years, have met our parents at another relative's home (in another part of the country entirely) for Christmas. However, I want to broach the idea of this Christmas gathering not being mandatory any longer. Only one of my siblings is married, and he did not make it to the gathering this year. My parent with the illness cannot conceive of a grown child NOT "coming home for Christmas" unless they are married, but this expectation is really unsustainable as I look ahead to the coming decades. My parents are in their early 50s and my youngest sibling is in his upper 20s.

Could you speak firstly to the kind and correct way to communicate with parents regarding holidays when their adult children are unmarried and therefore don't have a strong "excuse" for opting out, and also make any comments from your experience of the interaction between etiquette and having to deal with people whose social understanding is handicapped by emotional illness? (I am well aware that the particulars of a situation like ours is best addressed by a professional in the mental health field, but I would love to know your general thoughts and I know I am not the only person in your reading audience who finds themselves in such a situation.)

Grace Says:

Wow, that is a can of worms indeed. First of all, kudos to you and your sibs for making peace with such a volatile and seemingly toxic situation, and for your desire to remain loving, kind and inclusive of your parents despite these challenges.

As far as making them feel loved throughout the year without frequent visits, that's the easy part. Even on a budget, thoughtfulness is easily expressed: greeting cards, emails, the phone calls which you already do, small gifts in the mail (I'm talking fuzzy pink socks for Mom whose feet are always cold, or a packet of Dad's favorite licorice, not cashmere sweaters) are all nice ways to let them know you care without exposing yourself to pain and suffering.

To your other, more complicated questions....

I view the holiday issue in the same way I view removing a band-aid or getting an eyebrow wax--the quicker and sooner the better. If you know that you are not coming home for Christmas by July 4 weekend, then speak up. Let Mom and Dad know that you have other plans. Say calmly and clearly that this is in no way a reflection on them (even if it is), but that at this stage in your life you feel the need to establish your own traditions in your own home. They may well come back with the "you're single, childless and still have roots with us." In that case, you can respond equally calmly with "Yes, that is indeed my demographic, but I still really want to spend Christmas [feeding the homeless,/working on my novel/painting my living room/not traveling/hiking in the woods]." Stick to your guns, no matter how aggressive they get; if you let them beat you down on this one you reduce your chance of ever getting out from under this obligation. To soften the blow, you can offer up a "Christmas Visit" at some point in striking distance of December if you wish. Often times, the holidays trigger the worst in people, particularly those with emotional difficulties. The alteration in routine, bigger crowds, the expectation of fun, festivity and gifts can prove extremely stressful and for this reason often result in ugly scenes and unpleasant memories. A random weekend in January might be far less dramatic.

The flipside of making the early pronouncement, is of course, that the parent may harangue you from July 5 through December 25. In that case, there's no reason to prolong the agony for yourself; put off letting them know until you can't reasonably avoid it, and at that point fasten your seatbelt. You will have to make the decision whether sooner or later is better for you based on the individuals and their personalities.

As far as etiquette issues around people with emotional illness, first of all, let me once again commend you on your good heart. Few people (even Graces) have the ability or desire to accommodate someone who is seemingly so difficult. The best way to address people with these types of challenges is to be kind, clear, and non judgemental. Present information to them in the most non threatening way. Do not become defensive, regardless of their reaction. Keep in mind that they are hampered by their illness and that prevents them from responding appropriately much of the time. Choose times and places that are most comfortable and manageable for the afflicted person--if they get tired in the evening and struggle more with interpersonal relationships toward nightfall, try to limit any controversial conversations to early morning.

If certain situations or individuals bring out the worst or trigger bad reactions, avoid them. If you know Aunt Tillie sets Dad off every time they get together, extricate your group from her company. Ditto restaurants or long car rides in traffic, loud music, or pets--whatever the trouble spots are, you may be able to reduce the outbursts by reducing the stress inducers. You clearly have an understanding of the disorder as an illness, so just as you would help a blind person across the street or a physically handicapped person up the stairs, you can help your parent cope with challenging situations by offering an 'emotional helping hand'. When things start escalating, diffuse--offer to take Mom for a walk or out for a coffee. Ask the person who seems to be the trigger to help you in the kitchen and remove them him from the situation. It is a big responsibility for you, no doubt, but since you seem to visit infrequently, you can limit your exposure to manageable time spans.

And please don't hesitate to seek the help of a professional if this gets to be too much for you. Your parents' unwillingness to treat the illness should not translate to you with regard to collateral damage.

I hope these suggestions help.
Good Luck

While I normally add an amusing pic or video clip here, this post doesn't really lend itself to levity. But the title inspired me to add this--Breaking Away is a great movie, and really uplifting. If you haven't seen it, do so soon!