Thursday, March 29, 2012

Grace, Overexposed

As I told you in my previous post, Graces, it's been an epically humiliating week. On the heels of my email snafu, I survived, well, for lack of a better term, a wardrobe malfunction. It wasn't as widely watched or overly exposing as JLo's slip at the Oscars, but it was mortifying nonetheless.

Here's the story....

I was invited to a press event to cover a restaurant launch on behalf of the Philly Food Lovers. Thrilled to be offered such a plumb gig--free appetizers, free drinks, and interesting people in the food and media worlds--I spruced myself up and headed over. I had donned a new spring outfit for the occasion: a pair of black, snugly fitting trousers with a black cami, topped with a bright yellow knit blazer. Upon arriving at the launch party, I sampled the food and drinks on offer, took copious notes and photos, talked with the chef, the GM, several of the restaurant's suppliers, and various other movers and shakers. Upon departing this lovely event, I planned to write a favorable review and was quite pleased with the entire affair.

Imagine my shock, dismay and deflation when, upon arriving home, my daughter said, "Mom, you have a hole in the crotch of your pants. I can see your undies." And Graces, I am horrified to tell you that the undergarments on display were bright red.

What's a Grace to do?

Really, at that point, all you can do is laugh it off.

In looking back, I was trying to decide whether my cardinal rule, that Graces Tell (unobtrusively, of course, about spinach in the teeth, unzipped flies, exposed tags, etc.) would apply here. Because the rule is intended to address a condition that can be immediately remedied. This was not the case with my gaping hole. Unless the restaurant doubled as a tailor shop (which did not seem to be the case), the revelation would have served to make me impossibly self-conscious and forced me to leave abruptly, thus missing out on the chocolate covered figs paired with port wine. I suppose I could have removed my jacket and tied it, backwards, around my waist, but in addition to looking unfashionable, it would have left my top half inappropriately exposed for a business event on an early spring evening.

So, in the end, I concluded that ignorance was bliss, even though I was mortified afterwards. And I will be sure to inspect all apparel--even brand new clothes--before donning them.

Have you suffered any embarrassing wardrobe malfunctions of late?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

E-mail Oops

Well, Graces, it's been a heckuva week. I suffered not one but two epic humiliations, and I am here to share the first one with you in the hope that you will avoid similar mishaps. It involves an email gone oh-so-terribly wrong.

I have discussed email etiquette before, but this time I was guilty of the 'oops'. Here's the story:

We have been dealing with a clerical error on our City taxes for over a year. We did not make the error, that was done by a now unrelated third party but City Revenue Department has no interest in the original cause. Nor do they care that we owe them absolutely no money; they simply demand that we file some enormous stack of complicated forms to demonstrate that there was an error made by a third party. The burden remains on us or we will continue to receive harassing letters threatening enormous fines (for zero taxes due), jail time, repossession of our home, and ultimately, the reclamation of our vital organs.

My Grant of a hubby finally found a human being who was willing to answer our questions and he worked tirelessly to remedy the complication (hubby, not revenue guy.) Just when we thought the coast was clear, the accursed third party sent another erroneous piece of paper and upset the apple cart once more.

My patient husband approached his contact in the Revenue Department via email, cc'd me, and asked how we remedy the problem (again). The Revenue Guy sent back a convoluted email describing the regressive and onerous tasks we had to complete (again) to free us of this yoke. Frustrated, I sent back to hubby, "It astonishes me that more people who work for the Revenue Dept. are not murdered."

But I sent it to the Revenue Guy.


Under the Circ's, What's a Grace to Do?

Well, I immediately listened for the SWAT team that was doubtless speeding toward my house. I mean, threatening a civil servant is a major criminal offense, right? I also careened between hysterical laughter at the hilarity of the incident, and bone-chilling terror at the consequences of my action.

Then I emailed an enormously contrite message: "Please disregard previous email. I was intending to send it as a commiserating joke to my husband in light of the frustration we have had with this mishap. I am terribly sorry for sending it to you and sincerely hope you are not offended. We are profoundly grateful for the help you have given us through this process. I deeply apologize for any offense I may have caused and I really, really, really hope you have a sense of humor."

He sent back a curt: "I'm glad you clarified this. I wasn't sure of your intent. No problem." Not exactly, "It could happen to anyone, we're all pals together and let's go have a margarita," but I guess it was the best I could hope for, Graces. I mean Revenue Department Directors are not exactly known for their charm, wit and sparkle, are they. Oddly, my husband has yet to see the humor in this.

I also delivered a bag of homemade pistachio, cherry, dark chocolate bark tied with a pretty green ribbon along with a very contrite note of thanks to the Revenue chap's office the very next day. He came out to receive the bag, my personal apology, and my thanks. He even shook my hand.

So, I haven't been arrested for making terroristic threats to a civil servant. But we still don't have the tax snafu sorted out. And April 15 is a few weeks away. If we get a thorough audit we'll know why.

Moral of the story, Graces? Check, Double Check and Triple Check before hitting Send. If you don't, it can have dreadfully dire consequences.

Next post: my other epic humiliation involving overexposure. Have you suffered any whoppers lately?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

How to Say Thanks for a Mystery Gift

Dear Social Grace,

I am in a quandary. I recently celebrated a milestone birthday and was thrown a lovely surprise party. It was a great evening, and many friends generously bestowed gifts upon me. But one gift did not containe a card revealing which of my friends was the bestower. I can't bear the thought of not thanking the person, but short of asking each person if he or she brought the gift I can't solve the mystery. The obvious solutions do not work: process of elimination is out because everyone who came did not bring a gift, and calling the store where the gift was purchased was a dead end; they had way to trace the item. What do you recommend?

--Birthday Girl

Dear BG,

First of all, happy birthday! Aren't surprises wonderful?

But on to your question.

Your best option is to write effusive notes to all who came thanking them for helping you celebrate your bday in such festive and fun fashion. This way, the mystery giver will receive a note of thanks, and if there is any confusion about the gift, she can contact you and ascertain that you did in fact receive the scented candle, cashmere scarf, or Ferrari that she left your as a token commemorating your milestone.

The only other possibility is to have a third party make discrete inquiries, but this is complicated and this is fraught with pitfalls. Upon being asked, those who did not bring a gift may feel uncomfortable and obliged to dash out and deliver one; even if you ID the right one he/she will be embarrassed by the gift tagging error. The person you appoint will have to be something between a True Grace and Mata Hari and that is a rare combo.

Monday, March 12, 2012

You Don't Say, Again

It astonishes me that this scourge continues. The latest form that I have observed is actually somewhat related to last week's series of posts by guest blogger Isa Catto Shaw on bereavement. It doesn't deal with death, but does demonstrate what not to say when commenting on the difficulties of others. In other words, prime illustrations of people who never learned that oh-so-simple rule "If you have nothing nice to say, say nothing."

I've seen a lot of really ugly parent on parent commentary of late.....Two examples come to mind in particular, variations on the same thoughtless, rude, and maybe even cruel theme:

1. Parent A has a child with severe ADHD. Parent A works hard to help said child with the challenge, and has made strides through various interventions. Parent B has a child with a similar challenge--in fact, the kids share a tutor and attend the same study skills seminar. Parent B is often heard to say to Parent A "Gosh, I don't know how you do it. Your situation is so much worse than ours. I mean, you're in a whole different ball park."

2. J has a teenage nephew with severe anxiety. One of the treatments for the anxiety was for the nephew to travel alone on a visit to J, experience the successful separation from his home, and gain confidence in reducing his nerves. He did, and a good time was had by all. J's friend, Parent Q has a child with an almost identical disorder; upon meeting J's nephew during the visit, Parent Q pulled J aside and said, "Wow. I'm really glad that my son doesn't have anything that bad. I mean, I'm really worried about that kid. Our problem is very simple and easily fixed. Not your nephew's though. Whew. His poor parents."

In the face of such abject rudeness, What's a Grace To Do?

You have two options.

Option one is to say nothing. True Graces diffuse rather than escalate situations, so the UberGrace simply ignores the heartless comment, chalks it up to Gruntliness, changes the subject, or tactfully removes herself from the situation.

In choosing Option One, and if you aspire to sainthood in addition to Gracehood, you can consider the villains' perspectives; perhaps they think they are being empathetic by recognizing how difficult these problems are. (They are, of course dreadfully wrong). Or perhaps they are seeking to make themselves feel better by favorably comparing their situation to one they deem more difficult. (They have absolutely no right to tromp on the feelings of others in order to bolster their own.)

Option two is to say something. If the diffusion option is too passive for you, or if you have simply had enough, here are some responses which assert your position while still maintaining some Grace.

"I tend to avoid comparisons, I just focus on our situation and wish the best for everyone."

Or (slightly more assertive):

"I'm sure you are trying to be empathetic, and for that I thank you, but that doesn't make me feel any better."

[I know, I know, you are tempted to say, "If you could pry your Joey off the chandelier I'm sure I could more clearly see how much better your ball park is than mine," but it won't do you any good.]

"I'm really proud of nephew; he's done a great job facing his fears and we've had a lovely visit."

"I'm glad you're glad."

[Resist the urge to remind Parent Q that her son assumed the fetal position and hyperventilated under the desk when the school planned a trip to the Art Museum sans parent chaperons.]

Have you witnessed any parent on parent nastiness lately? What did YOU do?

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Tips for the Bereaved

Today's post marks the third and final in the series by our Guest Blogger, Isa Catto, who has, sadly, become rather expert on the topic of condolence, bereavement, and the etiquette--or woeful lack thereof--in this realm. Her previous posts covered do's and don'ts; today she tackles tips for the bereaved.

Say Thank You.

  • Always return your condolence correspondence with a grateful response on good stationery.
  • Thank those who helped in other ways, like running errands, providing food and other help. Thank you notes are an onerous task, but an important one. Those who reached out to you deserve to be acknowledged, and recognizing the outpouring of support you received can help in the grieving process. Writing those notes helps you catalog all the people you have in your life who are in your corner, and that is affirming.
  • Send a thank you note for any donation in the bereaved’s honor.
  • Acknowledging grace with more grace is a good thing for the universe at large. It is fine if it takes six months or more.
  • You don't have to write more than one note per person. For example, if your neighbor sent you a lovely condolence note, made a memorial donation, delivered lasagna to your house and picked up your kids at school for a week, that can all be rolled into one very, very sincere note of thanks.
  • Don’t forget to thank your nearest and dearest. Your kids and your spouse have been right there with you. Don’t take them for granted.

Socialize when you are ready, not before.

Avoid social settings until you are ready. There is no rush, and it is awkward for everyone when you cannot contain your emotion. And, you're likely to have a miserable time. Choose events that are not emotionally stressful or overly demanding. If you recently lost a loved one to cancer, avoid the American Cancer Society's Gala or a screening of Terms of Endearment at the local retro theatre.

Back to Grace...Big thanks to Isa for sharing her wisdom and wit on a difficult subject. Next up on More on "You Don't Say." This topic is never fully covered, alas.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Condolence Don'ts

Guest Blogger Isa Catto continues with her series on Condolence Etiquette. Today's topic is Condolence Don'ts

Don't stand in front of the person with head cocked and spaniel eyes and say nothing. This happened more times than I care to remember. At one family event, I was approached by an acquaintance who just stood there and I decided to ride it out as a social experiment. After a minute she let out a long exhale, the kind you hear in a yoga class. Her left eye was twitching. Still silence. Our young son needed immediate attention and interrupted us. Which proves that there is a God. That was agony. And really annoying. It shouldn’t be up to the bereaved to read minds or make someone else feel better by jump starting the conversation.

Don't allude to inheritance. This is not your business and only go there if the bereaved specifically mentions it. Fortunately this did not happen to me, but someone did insinuate to a friend of mine that she was going to be on “easy street” after her father died. And since the estate was left to charity, this assumption wasn’t true.

Don't indulge in competitive grieving. This is not about your loss, but the bereaved’s. I had one acquaintance imply that he suffered much more when he lost his mother at age 25, than I did when my mother died, since I was already an aged 43 . I am sure he suffered, but that was not the time to talk about his loss.

Don't offer unsolicited advice. The barista at my coffee shop offered me the name of her psychic so I could talk to my parents. That left me speechless.

Don't urge people to “get over it.” Mourning is a solitary and individual process. There is no timeline.

Don't indulge in platitudes like, "well, life must go on" or "life is for the living" or "they are still with you". There may be some wisdom in them, but they sound condescending and trite. I had woman ask me how I was (how I hate that phrase – avoid it) and I when I replied that I was alright, she countered: "Oh are you still sad?" Why yes, I was still sad six weeks after my father’s death.

Next up: Tips for the Bereaved. What are your suggestions?

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Isa Catto, Guest Blogger and Reluctant Condolence Expert

Isa Catto, our Guest Blogger, UberGrace, and Reluctant Expert on Condolence Do's and Don'ts

I am thrilled to have my friend Isa Catto, artist extraordinaire and SuperGrace as a guest blogger for the next few posts on Condolences. Isa was prompted to contribute this insightful and sometimes shocking series as a result of her grisly experiences with her recent and tragic bereavement. As if losing your parents isn't bad enough--she was subjected to some epic examples of sheer Gruntliness. And we both concluded that people aren't inherently mean (well, most people aren't), so we ascribed a majority of these gaffes to cluelessness and discomfort with a difficult and sad situation. We also concluded that a little Grace Primer on Condolence Do's and Don'ts was necessary. So, take it away, Isa.....

Recently I lost both parents, and my mother-in-law, in quick succession. I was very touched by all the love and support, but I also realized that grieving brings out a great deal of social deficits. Many people need a primer about social guidelines around the grieving process.

Condolence Dos

Do say something. Acknowledge the loss with a swift “I am so sorry “ or “ You have been in our thoughts and prayers and please let me know if I can help you in any way with walking the dog, taking the kids etc.” Do not linger unless the person wants to talk. It is devastating when people avoid you because they are too awkward to offer a condolence. It isn’t hard. I was astonished at how many people say nothing, and we live in a small town. Life and death are constants. Don’t ignore the final transition when it happens to someone. Everyone needs support when they suffer loss. This is an opportunity to exhibit grace and to overcome your own anxiety and to step out of your own life. And if you can't bring yourself to say something, then write to the bereaved. (See the next "do".)

Do write a note. Email is now acceptable, but never post on Facebook unless you have absolutely no other way to get hold of the bereaved. If this is your only means, make it a direct message as opposed as a wall post. I had so many people posting on my wall that I had to post back a thank you. That made me very uncomfortable. I later discovered that I could have turned OFF all FB communication, but I am a FB Luddite so I just didn't know. NEVER send a text condolence; this is simply too casual. NEVER send condolence through a third party; people were always sending condolences through my husband or best friend. This is a cop out. Handwritten notes are best, and the post office needs all the help it can get anyway. Writing a note also honors the deceased by keeping his memory alive that much longer.

Do include in the note a positive story or memory about the deceased if you knew him. Avoid discussing your specific experiences with loss unless you are an agile writer or a famous Irish poet. I loved discovering details of my parents' lives through other people's experiences. These memories were a delight and a gift during a dark time. Notes really do help with the slap of the loss. It is a way to honor the deceased and the family.

Do dress appropriately for the funeral. Choose a modest style in a dark color. This is not complicated, folks--a black/navy/charcoal/brown suit or dress for women, and pretty much the same for men. (Well, not the dress). To dress immodestly, or overly casually is profoundly disrespectful. To dress in attire that suggests that you are fitting the funeral in between clubbing, rock climbing, or skiing, is unspeakable. In San Antonio, where my father was buried everyone was appropriately dressed. Here in Colorado, at my mother’s memorial, the attire ranged from appropriate to athletic gear, jeans, fishnets and a tank top.

Think this:

Not this:

Do bring food. It is overwhelming when you lose someone in the family. Good food is always welcome.

Always bring it in a casserole dish that you can part with for a few weeks, or better yet a recyclable/disposable container. I had one woman who was desperate for her dish after a few days and although I really didn’t have the time to deal with her pantry crisis, I of course did. That said, we also received several mystery casseroles, which were not exactly consumed with relish in our household. They were pretty awful. It is wise to find out in advance what the family likes – comfort food never fails.

Do honor the specific directions of the bereaved. If the family asks for a donation to a particular charity or memorial fund in lieu of flowers, do it. It is not dissimilar to giving gifts from a registry – you are paying attention to what the family actually wants. This is no time to be creative and to freestyle. IF you do not know what to do, ask a close family friend. Fussing with flowers and plants when you don’t want them is one more thing that the bereaved doesn’t need.

Do give the bereaved and the family room. Things fall through the cracks. Calls don’t get returned, appointments get forgotten and details get overlooked. This is normal, so be forgiving. When my father died over the Christmas holidays, I was especially forgetful and I just didn’t have the energy to oversee all the kids’ thank you notes and I forgot the neighbor’s Xmas presents, and mislaid two teacher presents. Six weeks after my Dad died I received an email from an acquaintance asking after my mental health. She followed it with a request for a donation to a non-profit. That is really bad form. I would give people at least a grace period of three months. Also, unless you go through this process, you really don’t realize how much time the administration of death takes – it is a full time job for everyone to handle an estate, regardless of size. So accept that the bereaved may not have much time for lunch, book group, or salsa class for quite some time.

Next post: Condolence Don'ts. Have you seen any whoppers?

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Grace the Delinquent Blogger

Ok, Graces. It's been a month. First off, let me give a big fat apology for seemingly abandoning you. Secondly, let me assure you that nothing could be further from the truth. February was rahhther busy.

My daughter turned 13, so celebrations began the minute January ended. Thankfully, February, even in leap year, is the shortest month. I also have been busy working as a ghost blogger and writer for a few special clients (wild horses couldn't drag their names out of me--or at least not unless they came bearing very special shoes in my size as an enticement). Until such time as that offer is made, however, my clients' names will remain confidential. Finally, and most fun, I spent the month of February putting the final touches on a bang-up Gala benefiting my beloved Reading Terminal Market.

The party was a smash; guests were dressed to the nines, they danced their feet off, and fortified themselves with the best food on the planet. Most of the merchants in the market were "open"--meaning that whatever your heart desired was on offer for you: oysters and jamabalaya from Beck's Cajun Cafe; to die for sweets from Flying Monkey Patisserie and Pennsylvania General Store ; sushi; cheesesteaks; Basset's ice cream, honestly, I can't begin to catalog the selections. The ambient entertainment was spectacular--face painters (yes, that's The Grace being adorned),a Shutterbooth, which is a great way to both jazz up a party and save on photographers, a temporary tattoo artist, (yes, the heart near my heart did come off, though not as easily as the artist claimed; i used make-up remover, soap, and sugar body scrub to little avail; it disappeared after about 3 days of its own accord.)a fortune teller and body stockinged seemingly naked people who appeared out of nowhere to general shock and awe--pictured here, in case you missed it.

Upcoming posts will include further ruminations on benefits, a series from a guest blogger on the do's and don'ts of condolence (trust me, it's necessary, and I promise, not as grim as it sounds), and a reprisal of "You Don't Say", a topic that, sadly, never is completely covered.

So, that's what I've been up to. What have YOU been up to, Graces?