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Thursday, December 27, 2012

Hostess With The Mostess

Party planning takes a lot of work, and the bigger the party, the more stressful it can be! Having hosted and attended many parties is my lifetime, I want to share some basic tips to ensuring a successful celebration for all.
Obviously having a clean, and clutter free environment should be a no brainer, but as I've written before, some people think picking up, is the same thing as cleaning. Guests may not be giving your home a white glove inspection, but they do notice a lot more than you think they do. Having a clean home is an absolute must in party planning.

Make sure your home is comfortable and inviting. Making guests remove their shoes, or taking a woman's purse/handbag without her permission is a huge offense. Be sure to have pleasant background music, and plenty of seats for your guests to relax in. Standing room only can leave guest uncomfortable and looking for an excuse to leave early.

It's hard for most people to know what their own home smells like. We become accustomed to everyday scents in our home that are very obvious to other people from the moment they walk in the door. Lighting a few scented candles, using some plug-in scents, or using some deodorizers to give your home a pleasant, but not overpowering, scent will contribute to the welcoming environment for your party.

Fresh linens, hand towels, and nice hand soap should always be available for your guests in each bathroom. Make sure your extra rolls of toilet paper are easy for guests to find. Decent toilet paper for your guests is a major plus! Having had this conversation with many other ladies, it is a major issue for women to be stuck using single ply economy toilet paper. You know...the kind that feels like coarse tissue paper, but takes 3 handfuls just to get the job done right! Do your guests a favor and spend a few extra dollars on some softer, thicker toilet paper! Considering that I just got a text from my sister-in-law on Christmas day regarding is exact issue, it affirms once again that I am not alone in this complaint.

Whether you are catering in, cooking, or a pot luck, having enough food and beverages for everyone is crucial. This takes some planning and consideration, but the saying "having too much is better than not having enough" is very true. Always consider every guest. Will there be cocktails, or just beer and wine? Do you have enough soda and/or bottled water? Does any of your guests have a specific allergy you need to address (this goes for food, and pets)? Is there a wide variety to satisfy each guests preference or picky pallet? If you are hosting, you are responsible for making sure all of your guests are taken care of.

If you are hosting a holiday and/or themed event, be sure your decorations are pleasing and unoffensive. Be sure to have enough party favors for everyone, and maybe a few extra just in case. You may have a few surprise guests show up right before midnight on New Year's Eve, and having a few extra hats, horns, and noisemakers will help make everyone's celebration feel special!
Hosting a well planned and prepared party will help reduce your stress level as the host, and ensure your guests have a wonderful time. Following these simple rules will have your guests calling you the "Host/Hostess With The Mostess" after every party you host!

Have a Happy New Year!

What is your biggest pet peeve when attending a party? Do you have any party planning strategies that help ensure your parties are a success?

Sunday, December 16, 2012

It Takes A Real Woman To Build Up A Real Man

In today's modern society we see a growing number of women leading independent, driven, and successful lives. Women are taking on multiple roles by becoming highly educated, productive, self sufficient, and empowered. Just 50 years ago most women (from a middle class stand point) were housewives and mothers. Their primary job was to run the house (cooking, cleaning, shopping, etc.), look after the children, and look good while doing it. Today most women do not even get married or have children until they are in their 30's. Stay at home mothers are few and far between, and no man had dare suggest they have the house clean, homework done, dinner on the table, AND look good by the time he gets home! However, with the empowerment of women, and de-masculinity of men, there have been detrimental consequences to how men and women relate to each other.

Before anyone starts to get upset, I am not condemning women for wanting equal educations, and equal opportunities as men. But, we cannot deny that gender rolls do, and should exist. Men, for example, cannot (under natural circumstances) give birth to babies, or breastfeed. I see nothing wrong with a woman having a career, and being a wife and mother if she chooses to do so. I also fully support women who wish to resume the traditional role of housewife and stay at home mother. I think the point is we now have the choice to do either. It is when we take our independence to an extreme that changes gender roles, and that I do have a problem with.

Fifty years ago it was unheard of for a woman to pay for her own dinner, open her own doors, or carry in her own packages and bags when there were men around. A lot of women today refuse to let men do these things for them. Consequently, men now feel that they don't have to do these things, or even take care of women in any way. Men no longer look at women with respect, but merely objects of desire. Men are no longer trying to be superhero's, but are now trying to be players. When women marry these men, they soon begin to complain of their laziness, their lack of interest in romance, and their selfish behavior. How do women expect men to step up to the role of a good husband, when they refused to allow them the role of good men right from the beginning!
It is to the modern woman that I pose these questions:

What is wrong with allowing a man to pay for your drinks or dinner? Does it take away your self dignity, or your feminine power? On the contrary, I think it empowers you as a woman by having expectations on how you wish to be treated if he wishes to date you.

Why don't you let a man open doors, or carry packages for you? Does it show that you are weak, or too fragile to do these things for yourself? Absolutely not! It shows that you deserve to be respected and treated like the amazing woman you are.

I write this post from personal experience. I too was once that woman who thought is was debasing to allow a man to do things for me. That is... until I met my husband. Ken showed me that real men want to treat their women with respect, love, and a little pampering. By allowing men to do little things for us it builds them up to want to be more of a man for us...to be our hero, our prince, our knight in shining armor. It does not make us less than men, it makes men have to be more. Personally, I believe that all women deserve no less!

What is your stance on this topic? Are you for, or against men giving special treatment to women?

Friday, December 14, 2012

Christmas Affirmations

Christmastime is a wonderful time of year for the giving of affirmations. Every little thing about this season is a way to give someone else an affirmation of appreciation. From mailing out Christmas cards to friends and family, to baking treats for neighbors, or even giving a little something extra to your hairdresser, server, paperboy, or regular delivery person. Even most businesses and organizations host Christmas parties for their employees and volunteers.
I have had quite a wide range of Christmas party experiences in my lifetime. Some are held in fancy ballrooms with 5 course meals, drinks and dancing. Some have a “Secret Santa” with employee’s picking names to buy gifts for other employee’s or playing a fun game of White Elephant, some plan parties at restaurants, homes, or at the workplace. My current boss always finds a way to make the season special, and this year she took us out for a “Girl’s Day Out” which included lunch with cocktails and relaxing pedicures.  The most important aspect to remember is this is a chance to tell employee’s that they are appreciated and to find a way to show it.

Making sure your holiday events are well thought out, fun and festive will help show employees that they are appreciated. When employees truly feel appreciated they work harder, and are more dedicated to their position.  This is why well known companies like Google, make an effort to not only host amazing holiday parties for employee’s, but to make every day fun and enjoyable. It is a well known fact that companies who keep their employees happy, and feeling appreciated, have a more productive staff. When planning your next Christmas party, try to find a new way to do something extra special for your employee’s and let them see how much they really mean to your company.  Personally, I can say my current boss is extremely generous and I truly enjoy working for her!

What is your favorite Christmas party activity? Does your employer do something special for Christmas?

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Hostess Gifts or BYOB?

A few months after my husband and I got married, we decided it was time to host a party. Invites were sent out, and approximately fifteen people responded they would be coming. Just before the guests began to arrive I mentioned to my husband that I was curious to see if anyone would bring a hostess gift. Surely, out of fifteen guests, one of them would bring a bottle of wine! Surprisingly, every guest arrived empty handed.
Over the years I have noticed a significant decline of hostess gifts, and a significant increase of invitations requesting guests to “Please bring a dish or drink to share” or “BYOB” etc. The obvious conclusion is when guests are no longer willingly bringing the host/hostess a bottle of wine or treat, that would most likely be opened and shared with the guests, all of the expenses to throw a party are placed solely on the host/hostess.  Therefore, guests are now being asked to bring things that should be given automatically.

Presenting a host/hostess with a gift is a nice way of thanking them for hosting the event, and for inviting you to join them. A good friend of mine recently told me a story of a dinner party that she hosted for another couple. When they arrived the male guest gave her a bouquet of flowers. Her reaction was that of confusion, embarrassment, and slight annoyance. The only men who have ever given her flowers were her father, and her husband. To her, a bouquet of flowers was a very personal gift…one that signified love, and devotion. Having never been taught about, or received a hostess gift, she had no idea that a bouquet of flowers from an invited guest was traditional etiquette. Why has this age old custom slowly disappeared?

As the Christmas season begins, and your days begin to fill with holiday celebrations, remember to be a courteous guest, and bring a gift for your host/hostess. This simple gesture will be much appreciated, and possibly reciprocated in the future.

How do you feel about host/hostess gifts? Do you make a point to always give your host/hostess gift?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Dressed To Impress!

Throughout my adult life I have continuously been amazed by the ever declining need for people to "dress up." Over the past year I have noticed it even more. Whether we were attending an evening performance of Les Miserable at the theater, at a wedding, or even a funeral...a good majority of people are dressed casually and sometimes in plain jeans and t-shirts. It seems to me that attending a "special event" has lost it's special-ness.

Ever since I was little I have always preferred dressing up to dressing down, skirts over pants, and heels over flats. I have always thought that attending special events required dressing up as a sign of respect...respect for the hosts, other guests, and the event itself. I also think it would be nice to be able to wear a nice dress, bought for a wedding, more than once. It seems to me that the lazier our society becomes, especially when it comes to physical appearance, the less respect we hold for other people. I have always held the belief that etiquette, and morals/ethics are intrinsically connected. With the decline of one, comes the decline of the others. Consequently, if someone is dressed like a bum, then they can't complain if they are treated like a bum, and vice versa.

Here is a picture of my Grandfather at an event for Cadillac in Detroit.
Have you ever noticed how nice images of 1950's parties are? Everyone is always dressed so elegantly, talking, dancing, playing adult games, and enjoying each other's company. If you are spending an evening with people you really like, and enjoy being with, wouldn't you want to look your best for them? Going to a social event in clothes you just threw on, with barely any thought on what your hair or face looks like, with the attitude of "I don't need anyone's acknowledgement, and/or approval" is such a pessimistic way to live life. In fact, studies have shown that people who put more effort into their appearance on a daily basis have more confidence, interact more positively with other people, and are generally happier with themselves. Now, I'm not saying there aren't occasions for a more casual appearance (picnics and barbecue's, girl's nights in, shopping with friends, etc.), but I think it would be so nice to see people put more effort into their appearance... especially for special events.

How do you feel about dressing up? Would you like to see a revival of 1950's style cocktail parties, or you rather everyone dress more casually?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Let The Holiday Season Begin!

Our Thanksgiving weekend was blissful filled with good food, great times, and fun shopping. After spending a lovely Thanksgiving with my in-laws, I was invited, by two of my newest friends, to go shopping at the Tanger Outlet. We met there at 10 pm, and had a blast browsing most of the stores, stopping at the food court for a late night snack, and finally getting home at 3 am. I took a quick 5 hour nap and got back up to hit Michael's for some amazing Black Friday deals!

Despite the insane crowds at Michael's, I managed to stay true to my challenge, and remained calm, kept a smile on my face, and even chatted with some ladies while waiting in a massively long line. Despite the crowds, every person I encountered seemed to be in just as pleasant of a mood as I was. The rest of the weekend was spent visiting with amazing friends, going out with my friend Jacqueline for a "Girl's Night", and getting out my Christmas decorations.

I love decorating for Christmas, and I love my Christmas decorations! So, I decided to take some pictures and share them with you!

One of the amazing Black Friday deals I got at Michael's was a basic, plain, green wreath for $1.98. Combined with some of my ribbon and awesome bow making skills and VOILA!
This year is the first Christmas that we live somewhere that doesn't have a fireplace, so I decided to hang our stockings on the buffet hutch.
Here is a one sided view of our living room, but if you look closely you can see our Willow Tree Nativity reflected in the mirror.

And the best part is that lovely glow set off by the Christmas tree lights.

I still have to put some tinsel on the Christmas tree, and put up a few more decorations, but our house definitely feels like Christmastime is here. Let the holiday season begin!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

'Tis the Season for Giving

The holiday season is now upon us. Social networks are filled with posts about what deals someone found, what upcoming sales they will hit, what gifts their children are asking demanding  for Christmas. People are actively making their “game plan” for Black Friday as if it’s a sport…ruthlessly, selfishly, and in it to win it. I cannot even begin to name how many times I have been deliberately pushed, shoved, or slammed into by someone else’s cart so they can get the “prize” gift first. For this reason, I actively avoid the “early bird” Black Friday sales where I know the shopping crowd will be brutal. There is nothing I, or anyone I am buying for, need so badly that I must fight for it. That is not what the Christmas season is about for me.
Christmas is a time of giving. I love picking out the perfect gift (this year I am making most of my gifts, but I will write more about that after Christmas!), taking the time to perfectly wrap each gift and tie beautiful bows. For me, the presentation of the gift is just as important as the gift itself. I am not just giving a gift, I am giving all the love, time, and attention to detail I put into wrapping the gift, because most people love getting a beautiful wrapped gift, and I love giving them. I also love giving and receiving the gift of the holiday spirit. Therefore, this year I am challenging myself with a new “game plan” for the Christmas season.

The holiday season can be quite stressful, and a friendly smile and greeting could help brighten someone’s day…even if it’s just for a minute or two. So, I plan to give a friendly smile to every person I see. I will give my patience to impatient shoppers, store clerks, and service providers, and remember to wish them a “Merry Christmas” in a friendly tone. I will give my change to every Santa ringing a bell for charity, even if I only have a few pennies. I will remind myself to be more joyful and forgiving. I will make a point to stop and admire the Christmas lights and decorations that someone spent hours putting up for our pleasure. I will allow myself to enjoy the Christmas music playing in the stores, instead of getting annoyed that they are playing all season long. They are only played once a year after all. Overall, I will try to stress out less, and enjoy the season more, and I truly hope my example will help other's to follow.

Tell Me: What would you like to give this Christmas Season? Do you have a favorite tradition of giving in your family?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Sick...And Still Thankful!

This week I am sick. This statement usually garners a lot of sympathy for my husband, as I have been told by many people throughout my life that I am the worst "sick" person. Let me just say I have a very low tolerance for pain and leave it at that. It's hard to be "thankful" when you are confined to your bed for almost a week, but I must remember the lesson from last week and be thankful for the little things.

I am thankful for spending a week with my daughter, Corinne. Even if most of it was spent laying on the couch watching old episodes of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and Doctor Who, napping, and going through endless amounts of tissue and medication.

Yesterday was by far the worst day for me. What do you do when you are too sick to really do anything? Have a Lord Of The Rings marathon of coarse! My amazing husband inflated our twin air mattress, and made me a "sick bed" in the living room so I could rest comfortably while watching (and sometimes sleeping through) LOTR's with Corinne.
I must warn my friend's and family to be seated as they read this next part, because they will probably be quite shocked! Later in the evening I got up enough energy to do a small activity with Corinne. We painted our nails...Pink! That's right! My 19-year old (never a girly girl) daughter, has grown out her fingernails and painted them a lovely shade of salmon pink. I had to take a picture or no one would believe me!
As much as I truly hate being sick, I am very thankful for the time I have gotten to spend with Corinne for the duration of her visit. I am also extremely thankful for my very generous and caring boss, Holli, who allowed me to take the time off work to recover. Without her generosity I would not have had as much time with Corinne, or been able to take the time I need to rest and recuperate!

Friday, November 9, 2012

These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things

What am I thankful for this week? A birthday filled with some of my favorite things!

Yesterday was my birthday, and it was a wonderful surprise to have a beautiful day with blue skies, and mild November temperatures. My day started with a lovely gift from one of my oldest, and best-est friends... a bottle of wine in a personalized bag sitting on my desk at work.
Having a bottle of wine right in front of me, while I'm at work, and in a celebratory mood, probably isn't a good idea, so I quickly packed it away. I left work early and spent the rest of the day with my husband and daughter. First stop on my list of favorite things...shopping of coarse! Shoe shopping! It must have been my lucky day (well, it was my birthday after all!), because I found a lovely pair of suede T-strap heels in the clearance section at DSW.  With the addition of my $5 off birthday reward certificate it made these shoes a wonderful birthday bargain!
Every fall, since my grandmother was a little girl, it has been a family tradition to visit Michigan's oldest cider mill for the most amazing, 100% pure, apple cider, and cinnamon donuts. Making this trip in the early afternoon meant there were very few people there (opposed to the bustling crowds and super long lines that are quite common at this cider mill!). It was very nice, and peaceful, and with the sun shining we enjoyed our cider and donuts at an outside table.

For dinner we headed Downriver to my favorite Mexican restaurant for the best chips and salsa on the planet! This picture will totally make both of my sister's jealous! 
After dinner we spent a few hours visiting my cousin, Danielle, and her family. It was so nice to just sit around telling (sometimes singing) stories from our childhood. Laughing about the silly things we had made up while playing Barbie's, and old movie's we used watch. It was a fantastic visit!

There were a few more surprises waiting for me when we got home! A mailbox full of birthday cards:
And a single red rose, and one of my new favorite movies, waiting on the dining room table from my loving husband!
This year, I can honestly say that my birthday was a fabulous day filled with lots of love from my family and friends, an abundance of letters, posts, texts, and emails with thoughtful birthday wishes, little surprises, great food, and the joy of laughter. For all this I am truly blessed, and thankful! Perhaps the best way to sum up my feelings on the day is with this sign from Franklin Cider Mill:

Sunday, November 4, 2012

You Have Been Formally Invited

As the holiday season quickly approaches, so too does the party season. Many hours of preparation, consideration, and collaboration go into event planning. For many, hosting an event/party/gathering, is all consuming, taking up every waking (and sometimes sleeping) moment of their lives until the day arrives. The decorations have been hung, the meals prepared, the guests have begun to arrive...but wait! Some of your guests have brought along guests of their own...Uninvited!
This scenario seems to happen a lot more often than it should. Just this week I heard a woman complain that even though she is hosting Thanksgiving dinner at her home, her mother-in-law has taken it upon herself to invite half a dozen additional guests without even asking her daughter-in-law's approval first. There have been many times I have offered to host a party and a guest calls to ask if they can bring other guests. For informal parties, open houses, pot lucks, etc., there is generally an atmosphere of "the more the merrier," but when it comes to "Invite Only" events, it is always best just to assume that the invite list is final.

With the exception of bringing a date, which should always be allowed, it is extremely rude to even ask the host/hostess for permission to bring additional guests. For me personally, upon being asked if a guest can bring additional guests, it puts me into a very uncomfortable position. I do not want more guests than I have already planned for, yet I feel bad saying no. Luckily, my husband never feels bad declining extra guests, so he is always the one who gives the answers to these extremely rude requests.

The fact that you received an invitation means that you have been specifically chosen to attend that event. It is an honor, not an open door! Unless you have been informed that more guests are welcomed, you may bring your date, but leave the rest of your friends at home!

Have you ever had people crash one of your parties? Or, do you always plan open invitation parties? How do you accommodate for unplanned guests who arrive unexpectedly? Have you ever had to turn away additional guests?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

I Am Thankful For...My Superman!

Being thankful during the month of November may be a bit cliche` but it is always good to start somewhere. For the month of November I am going to dedicate at least one post a week to something I am thankful for. It will help me reflect more on the positive things in my life, and hopefully enforce a more humble, and grateful frame of mind. I am dedicating the first post to the most amazing man in my life...My Superman...My Husband.

It's all the little things that I am most thankful for. I am not a morning person. As a child I never complained about nap time, and always cried for "5 more minutes" when my mother woke me up for school. Years later, as an adult, I was diagnosed with "Idiopathic Hypersomnia", and now know there is a medical reason for my extreme daytime sleepiness. If left to my own devices, trying to get up, and get ready for work is like trying to make the Hulk take a bath. I am extremely impatient, I lack coordination, I can't remember where anything is, and ultimately end up spending my morning full of rage, and frustration. Take two: In walks my oh so loving, infinitely patient, and nothing less than amazing husband, Ken. Every morning Ken will get up and make my breakfast, pack my lunch, load everything I need into the car, and keep things running smooth and (mostly) on schedule. Each and every morning my husband shows how much I am worth to him, by helping me overcome the most difficult part of my day. For this I am extremely thankful!

Even though my husband has a lot of work to do during the day, he always finds time to log on to chat with me. Ken always makes a point to kiss me as soon as he see's me after work, he buys me little treats (like Dove chocolates or Ben & Jerry's ice cream), and will surprise me with a single red rose every few weeks. He opens doors for me, and other women too, and he holds my hand whenever the opportunity arises. Because we were married on February 1st, we make sure to acknowledge the 1st of every month as mini-anniversaries, and we always try to be the first to tell the other "Happy Anniversary". Sometimes I win, sometimes he wins, sometimes one of us remembers just seconds before the other and steals the win! And yes, today I won! It's a fun game, but a great way for us to recognize and celebrate the gift of our marriage to each other. For all these things I am extremely thankful!

Here is a picture of Ken's wedding ring I had inscribed with "My Superman For All Eternity."
My husband loves philosophy, he spends hours upon hours reading ancient Greek philosophers, Doctors of the Church, and many other great thinkers. I often think...who reads this stuff for fun?!!!...my husband! Because of his dedication to philosophical truth and logic, he is the first person to call me out when I am being ridiculous. He is the one constant in my consistently inconsistent life. Sometimes I listen and take his advice, and sometimes I'm stubborn and stick to my own opinion, but nevertheless, I am extremely thankful to always have his steady and reasonable discourse in my life.
Occasionally I may joke that Ken is my "Saintly" husband. The truth is, he is the one of the most honest, disciplined, dedicated and loyal people I know. He sets an unwavering example by living a life full of integrity, devotion, and strong faith. Occasionally he may joke that marrying me is his "Get Into Heaven Free" pass. I don't argue with that one, because as funny as it is, it also rings of truth.

In a lifetime of chaos, and random bits of drama, Ken came into my life like a warm and gentle breeze, enveloping me with his love, friendship, acts of kindness, and his sound, reasonable mind. There is so much more I could mention...the way he makes me laugh, or knows when I've had a rough day and just need to be pampered...and even though I may not tell him all the time, I am extremely grateful to him, and thankful for him ALL THE TIME!

What are you thankful for in your life right now? Is there something someone recently did for you that you are thankful for? Do you have any little traditions that make you more thankful for those moments in your life?

Sunday, October 28, 2012

What Did You Just Say?!

As I was brainstorming ideas for my next blog post, I decided that I wanted to focus on how we treat others with the words we say. It then occurred to me that I knew the perfect person to help me with this topic, and I contacted my friend Jacqueline to ask if she would like to write a “Guest” post on my blog. To my delight, she accepted my invitation. 

It was a hot April day in southern Florida, and I was squinting in the middle of a field, my 11-month-old balanced on one hip while my other hand was occupied in holding my sunglasses, which I had pulled off so that I could politely make eye contact with the person standing in front of me. We were preparing for a big event and there was no shortage of things going wrong. The crisis of the moment consisted of the beverage supplier supplying us with the wrong spout for the keg. We would soon be faced with a drove of sweaty, exhausted adult dodge ball players, and announcing that we didn't have chilled beer was something I was trying desperately hard to avoid.
“So what is it doing, again?” My husband asked.
The man, a friend of ours, reenacted the event that had been plaguing him. But this time, as he tried to force the obstinate plastic piece to fit, with sweat dripping into his eyes, he insulted my daughter.

My stomach dropped, my heart beat furiously in my chest, and I could feel myself holding my breath as my checks flamed red. My husband, gently, courteously, hinted to the man about what he’d said, but the point was missed.

It may be surprising to hear that our friend insulted my daughter. But the truth is, she is regularly insulted by our distant friends, close friends, even family. Whether we are going to a family-friendly function or a sophisticated dinner party, we run into this problem so often that during the car ride, my husband and I have practice conversations about how we’ll handle the insults. It is sad but true that at some point during the evening, I’ll be discussing current events or a good book and someone will exclaim, “Oh! I thought that movie was so retarded!”

I've had enough practice conversations now that I don’t get as flustered as I used to. Now I can calmly explain to the person, “When you said, ‘I thought that movie was retarded,’ you were using the word ‘retarded’ to mean ‘stupid,’ ‘worthless,’ ‘a waste of my money.’ But you see, my daughter is retarded. If you were to open her medical file, that is what it would say across the top of the first page. But she is not stupid or worthless or the waste of a single penny.”
I am well aware that most people don’t mean that my daughter is stupid or worthless when they call a movie retarded, but that is what they are actually saying. They are using a word to mean stupid that describes my child. We live in a society mature enough to understand the inappropriateness of insulting my black neighbor or my Jewish grocer or my Hispanic hair stylist, but deems it acceptable to insult my special needs child in the form of careless slang.

It is inevitable that wherever we go and whatever we do, we’ll encounter people who are different from us. Handling ourselves in a mature manner opens doors, be it for personal reasons, like new friends, or professional ones, like business opportunities. Using precise language is key. Perhaps the movie you didn't like had a lame ending. Or the politician you disagree with had a very harmful plan for this country. Or the way that athlete acted when he lost the game made himself look bad. Saying what we mean makes us look smarter and more approachable.

But just as inevitable as taxes and death, are mistakes. When we do find ourselves with our feet in our mouths, the best thing to do is to apologize and to do it sincerely. I was at a book club meeting with some friends when one of the girls let the r-word slip. She cut herself off mid-sentence, turned to me, and said very humbly, “Jacqueline, I am sorry. I didn't mean it.” Her willingness to apologize and learn from her mistake elicited more respect from me than if she’d never used the wrong word. I left that book club meeting with a stronger friendship than when I’d entered. It has been wisely noted that virtue is not a patient person being patient, but an impatient person being patient. The same is true with etiquette, “most improved” is a more impressive title than “born perfect.”
Having good etiquette when it comes to language doesn't make us weak or overly sensitive to political correctness, it makes us friendly and graceful because we can make people feel comfortable around us; it makes us genuine and truthful because we are good people both when others are watching and when we’re alone; and it makes us admirable because we handle frustrating situations without reverting to insults.

Jacqueline Kuschel is the blogger behind Journey Narrative, where she chronicles life as a law school wife and special needs mother. She loves reading, writing, hiking, and crocheting. She resides with her husband and daughter in Chicago, Illinois.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Dining Etiquette 101

Several years ago I was dining out with friends at a local restaurant, and upon finishing his meal, one of my companions proceeded to stretch his arms over his head, arch his back, and yawn, then slump back down in his seat. I was stunned, and embarrassed to be in the company of such a rude person who obviously lacked good social manners.
Many generations ago, it was common practice for parents to teach their children proper dining etiquette by placing a mirror in front of them while they ate. This would enable the child to see what other people would see, and make the corrections needed. I don't know why this isn't still practiced with our children today, but I also think this would be excellent for adults too. I truly believe that if people could see how they look when they are eating, the majority would quickly work to change their manners. Here are some quick and simple table rules that could be applied without much effort:

When having a formal dinner at a person's home, never sit at the dining table until the host is seated or you are asked to be seated.

Watch your hostess. You may begin eating when she begins eating, and you may leave the table after the hostess stands to leave the table. A good way to remember this is "Ladies First".

There are many good tutorials online that will teach you about formal place settings and which glass, or fork to use. However, when in doubt either watch your host/hostess, or start with the fork/spoon on the outside, and work your way in.
Once you are seated your napkin should be placed on your lap. Even the best of us will occasionally drop a crumb or two on our lap, and having a napkin well placed will save your clothing from all kinds of possible disasters. You may use this napkin to wipe your mouth, but it should not be placed back on the table until after you have finished eating.

You should never take bites so big that it requires you to stretch your mouth open (certain foods like hamburgers, or stacked sandwiches are an exception). Always cut your food into small pieces, eating one piece at a time. This will enable you to chew quietly and quickly, and help you to maintain good table conversations. Chewing loudly, with your mouth open, or belching is UNACCEPTABLE, and will even cause the other guests feelings of disgust. I know that occasionally your body may work against you, so a simple "excuse me" is appropriate, and you may then continue the conversation with ease.

As I mentioned before, sitting up straight while dining has many benefits. You should always bring the food up to your mouth, not your mouth to your food.

Having good table manners is more then a bunch of rigid rules that some old people invented to keep up pretenses. It is a means to help you dine comfortably and still look good to the other guests. The primary goal of table manners is to ensure that every guest has an enjoyable experience. The good news is, even if you were never taught good table manners, it's never too late to learn!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Table For Two Please!

Having spent the first half of my adult life waiting tables for a living it has made me both a critic, and a defender at each restaurant I eat at. If I had my way I would make it mandatory for every U.S. citizen to wait tables for a minimum of one month before they turn 25. Not only would this experience help everyone be more understanding when they go out to eat, but it would help them be more patient, considerate, and appreciative of every service position.

Not only did I spend my young adult years waiting tables as a single parent, but most of the women in my family raised their children by serving other people. It continually surprises me that a lot of people still do not know how to tip! Allow me to educate the masses. A basic tip for a restaurant server/bartender is 20% of your entire bill. This is VERY easy to calculate! It's simply $2.00 for every $10.00 on your bill. If your bill is $60.00 then your tip is $12.00. I know some people think this is ridiculous and the restaurants should pay their servers a higher hourly wage so they don't have to tip, but this is not the reality of the restaurant industry and it is highly unlikely that it will change any time soon. The bottom line is, if you don't want to tip a server for busting their butt waiting on you, then stay home!
someecards.com - Cheers to all the good people who know to tip 20%!
This brings me to my next point. Take a look at what is going on in the restaurant. Is it busy? Does your server have a lot of tables? Is your server also waiting on a large party? Any good server will try their best to meet your needs to the best of their ability, but occasionally there are circumstances outside of their control that is preventing them from giving you 100% of their attention. Be patient, and understanding. If need be, speak to a manager about the situation, but do not punish the server with a low, or no, tip. Trust me when I say they are running as hard and fast as they can to meet everyone's needs. I can honestly say that there has only been a small handful of times that I have truly experienced bad service and left a smaller tip because of it. Also, how your food is prepared, or when it comes out of the kitchen is COMPLETELY out of your servers hands! Your server is not the cook, and if you are unhappy with your food just let your server know and they will try to remedy the situation to the best of their ability.

If you happen to be with a large party, and only have one server, again please be patient. Trying to service each persons needs (drinks, appetizers, meals, sides, extra needs, etc.) can be extremely demanding of your servers time, and if they do a great job, then your tip should reflect your appreciation! It is a lot harder to serve a party then it is a table of two. I should also point out that being responsible for your mess is applicable to more than just the public restroom. If you do happen to leave a huge mess that you, for whatever reason, are unable to clean yourself, then again, you should compensate your server for having to clean up your mess for you.

Some people are lingerers. Maybe you are having a business lunch/dinner, or a "getting to know you" date, or just want to take your time and have a nice relaxing meal. Whatever the reason, the longer you sit at your table, the less money your server is going to make unless you compensate them for the extra time you sit there! If you and a friend sit and have drinks for several hours after your meal, you should add a minimum of $5.00 extra to your tip for every half hour you stay after your meal. Your server has bills to pay just like everyone else does, and by you occupying their means to make money for long periods of time, you jeopardize their ability to meet the financial needs in their life. If you don't want to tip your server more, then go sit at the bar. BUT, if you order more drinks at the bar, then you have to tip the bartender by the same 20% rule. Furthermore, being mindful of your servers time, especially if they are busy, is the courteous thing to do. Talking or texting on your cell phone when you should be ready to order is extremely rude. At a bare minimum, put your cell phone away until you have placed your order...keeping it tucked away all night is even better!

Waiting tables is a very demanding job, but with the right attitude you can make their job easier, and a lot of times even quite enjoyable! And, with any service job, the more your server feels appreciated, the better their service will be the next time you see them. Tip your server well, and they will serve you even better!

What standards do you have when it comes to tipping? Do you have a "bad tipper" story to share? What is the best/worst service you have ever had? I would love to hear your stories!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Most Spooktacular Time Of Year!

Halloween is my favorite secular holiday. It's the one time of year that you can dress up as anything or anyone you want. Even when my daughter was young, I would dress up to take her out trick-or-treating. In the late 90's I had the pleasure of going down to New Orleans several years in a row for the Anne Rice Vampire Lestat Fan Club Ball. Not only was this event a lot of fun, but almost every person there took their costume choices very seriously and went all out!

Me and a friend on our way to the ARVLFC Ball 1998:

Me at the ARVLFC Ball 1999:

I love Halloween decorations, haunted houses, watching scary movies, and seeing the kids all dressed up to go trick-or-treating. Even though Halloween has always been a favorite time of year for me, it occurred to me that I have never personally thrown a Halloween party. So, my husband and I sent out some invites, got out our Halloween decorations, bought a few more, and threw a great party last night! 

I absolutely love when people dress completely out of character!

Here are my "Hard Rock" friends showing off a side I never knew they had!

It was a very fun night with great friends, and amazing costumes, and I hope to make this an annual tradition! 
Tell me, what is your favorite costume, or Halloween tradition?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

From The Bottom of My Heart...Maybe

This may come as a shock to you, but I hate “Thank You” cards! Do I think people need to be thanked and appreciated for their time, kindness, thoughtfulness, and gift’s?  Absolutely! And sending someone a very personal thank you note is a lot different than sending out generic “Thank You” cards en masse after an event. I have several important points to make regarding my opinion on this topic, so let me break it down for you bullet point style.

1.   The main events that “require” thank you notes to be sent are mostly bridal/baby showers, graduation parties, and weddings. These are all life transitioning events. High school graduates are preparing for college, saying goodbye to friends, and preparing for life as an adult. College graduates are starting new jobs, possibly moving to a new location, and preparing for life as a self sustaining adult with new responsibilities. Engaged couples are preparing for the new roles of Husband and Wife along with everything that entails: new family members, new rules, new home, new holiday traditions, etc.  Expectant mothers are preparing for a whole new addition in their life that will change almost everything in their current lifestyle. Expecting people who are in the midst of major life changes to find the time, energy, and money to write mass amounts of “Thank You” cards is completely unreasonable.
        2.   “Thank You” cards written en masse are impersonal, and generic. “Dear So and So, Thank you so much for your gift (usually pre-picked on a registry). I will surely enjoy it in the future. Sincerely, Me." My husband once told me that he literally wrote the exact same thing on every single “Thank You” card he sent out from his high school graduation party. Having received many of these types of handwritten generic “Thank You” cards myself, I know he is not the only one. I open them, roll my eyes, and then throw them out. If I really want to know if someone likes a gift that I have given them then I will ask them. Having a personal conversation allows the recipient of the gift to really tell you how appreciative they are, and maybe even what they have done with your gift.

        3.  Weddings are generally a major event in a couple’s life. Most weddings take many months of meticulous planning, scheduling, budgeting, and coordinating every little detail right down to the salt and pepper shakers on each table. Receiving an invite to a wedding is an honor, and to thank the happy couple for the invite, you give them a wedding gift. That’s right! Your wedding gift to the Bride and Groom is a “Thank You” for spending their time, and money on the guests. Most couples and their families have provided each guest with a free evening out that usually includes a nice meal, alcoholic beverages, dessert, dancing, and entertainment. There is usually even a token “favor/gift” at each place setting thanking each guest for attending.  So, you bring a wedding gift to thank the Bride and Groom for inviting you to their very special event, but then the guests expect a “Thank You” card from the Bride and Groom for their “Thank You” gift for being invited? 
      To sum this up, never give a gift expecting a thank you card. Gifts should be given for the pleasure of giving. However, thanking someone for their generosity and/or gift should always be done, and it should be done in a timely, thoughtful, and personal manner.
I would like my readers to tell me what your opinion is on this topic. Leave me a comment below and tell me if you agree with sending “Thank You” cards or not. How did you thank guests who attended a major event/party in your life? Do you have any idea's or suggestions for a great way to make saying "Thank You" more thoughtful and personal?

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Girl's Just Want To Have Fun!

Whether at home or out on the town, "Girl's Night's" are a lot fun. It's a time for women to get together with their friends, relax, have drinks and, most importantly, talk. Men go hunting, or fishing, or play sports, and the highlight is who shot, caught, or scored the biggest, baddest, most. Likewise, the highlight of a Girl's Night is who has the biggest, baddest, most...juicy story to tell! Just the thought of getting the latest gossip will have some women acting as giddy at a 14 year old school girl. Let's face it...stepping out of our own lives for a bit, and getting to hear about someone else's life makes us feel a bit better about our own struggles.

As much as women love to gossip, most of the time it's relatively harmless. We talk about who's dating who, who's getting married or having a baby, what each other's opinions are on a specific topic or coming event, how someone is coping with a tragedy, venting about work or family, or asking each other's advice on how to handle a certain situation in our lives. Depending on the group of women you are with, these conversations can be humorous, helpful, relatable, or scandalous. The question women need to ask themselves BEFORE engaging in gossip is: would this story cause harm to another person? If the juicy piece of gossip you are about to share would cause more harm than good (either by betraying confidence, spreading rumors, or making harsh or unnecessary judgement), then shame on you! I fully support each person's right to voice their opinion on any given topic, but if you are not willing to stand your ground on your opinion when confronted on it, then your opinion isn't worth sharing. If you are willing to tell your girlfriend's why you don't like a particular person, then you better be willing to tell the person in question why you don't like them face to face. Furthermore, before you accept a piece of gossip as truth, you better check the facts. There are always several sides to each story, and it's best to keep an open mind until you know the facts. If someone has trusted you, in confidence, with a very private and personal story, then in confidence it must remain! Nothing is more hurtful or damaging than telling someone else's secrets for your own pleasure.

Spending an evening in or out with the ladies can be an amazing time, and catching up on gossip is always fun. Just remember to be mindful of your conversations, and not have too much fun at someone else's expense.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Mabel, Mabel, Strong and Able...

Recently, I have had several requests from readers to address the topic of table manners, or the extreme lack thereof in our culture. Because this is an extensive topic, I will address it in a series of posts. I should also preface this post by stating that I do not care what you do in the privacy of your own home. Whether you want to eat in your bed with your dog, or while lounging on the sofa, that is your prerogative. Yet,what you do in public is everyone’s business, for the simple fact that we have to sit there and watch you behave the way you do.

Let’s start with one of the basic rules of etiquette: No elbows on the table while eating. Many of you may remember the rhyme:

Mabel, Mabel, strong and able
Get your elbows off the table!
This is not a horse’s stable,
But a formal dining table!

To many people this rule doesn't make any sense. Many of you will even ask, “Who cares if I have my elbows on the table at dinner?!” There are several possibilities of what is happening when someone is eating with their elbow on the table. They either have their head rested on their hand indicative of boredom, or they are positioned over their plate of food like a trough, shoveling the food in their mouth, or they are swinging their fork around as they talk with their hand. Who cares? Well, the person sitting next to you cares when you have almost planted your elbow in their mashed potatoes, or knocked their silverware off the table. The person across from you cares as they watch your fork being aimlessly swung around, hoping the food on the fork, or the fork itself doesn't come flying their way while you talk. The host and other guests care when your head is rested on your hands in an obvious state of boredom and disrespect. Last but not least, your body cares! Sitting with your elbows on the table while you are eating causes you to slouch, while eating without your elbows on the table will most likely lead you to sit up straight. Proper posture during meals contributes to better digestion of your food, less heartburn and indigestion, and better circulation.

Aside from the fact that it's just bad manners, in the end, removing your elbows from the table during meals promotes better health, better company, and a much more enjoyable dining experience for everyone.  

Monday, October 8, 2012

Clean Up Your Mess!

It's something we all have to do, and something we all have to use. Yet, even the most popular bachelor pad looks clean compared to how some women leave a public restroom!

Let's face it, even the most pristine and beautifully decorated public restrooms have us walking on egg shells, trying to touch as little as possible, squirming, squatting, using a weeks worth of toilet paper, and our feet to flush the toilet. The tight rope walker who balanced his way across Niagra Falls has seen nothing compared to the woman who enters a public restroom wearing 5 inch heels, after having a few glasses of wine. Before she is through she will have managed to miraculously balance herself in a stall without touching the walls or the toilet, remove and replace her undergarments, while clinging to her handbag and possibly her cellphone, and still walk away without a single scratch or run in her designer pantyhose! However, the mess she has left behind her is likely to be atrocious.

Most public restrooms are cleaned quite well on a regular basis throughout each and every day, so someone has to be the first to leave the spotted splashes on the toilet seat, or the yards of toilet paper on the floor. Why is it so difficult to clean up your own mess? Have you ever thought about who you are leaving that mess for? Someone has to use that toilet after you. What if it's a mother with a small child? What if it's someone with bad knee's or someone who simply cannot balance well? What if it's your grandmother? I know it may be a bit too much to ask some women to simply clean off the toilet seat, but is it too much to ask that you find an employee to clean up the restroom so the next person in line does not have to suffer the same disgusting environment?

This is never an issue when we are a guest in someone's home. We always make sure that the host's bathroom is just as clean as when we entered. Most women would be mortified to leave sprinkles on the toilet seat or trails of toilet paper in their hosts bathroom! And God forbid you clog the toilet or improperly dispose of your monthly sanitation supplies. But how much do you really know about your host/hostess' cleaning rituals? For all you know, your host/hostess could have just wiped everything down quickly with a plain towel, or they may never even wash their hands and every handle throughout their house is brimming with germs and disease. Rest assured my dear "germaphobe's," according to modern medical opinion, it is more than likely that there is nothing you will come in contact with that can't be removed or overcome by a strong immune system, and by simply washing your hands. So, now that I've made you question the cleanliness of even your best friends bathroom, why would you treat a public restroom any differently than your friends?

Today's etiquette lesson: Be conscious of your behavior even when you think no one can see you, because there is always someone who has to come after you. The kind and gracious thing to do, ladies, is....Clean up your mess!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Stop! Look! Listen!

The weekend is finally here! Time to relax, and have fun with family and friends.  Yet, how can you REALLY relax and have fun with your family and friends when you never put your cell phone down?!!!
Nothing is more annoying than trying to have a conversation with someone who is constantly texting, chatting, or doing one of the million other things that modern technology allows us to do at the touch of our fingers. How does it feel when you are having a conversation with someone and someone else walks up and completely interrupts without excuse or apology? This is no different than a cell phone that is constantly on alert for incoming communication in one form or another. Is the comment someone just made on your Facebook page really so much more important than the person sitting next to you? Is the text you are reading and responding to worth missing the points your child just scored at their soccer game? Our society is so over saturated with technology and information that it’s almost impossible for most people to give 100% of their attention to one person, place, or thing. So why even bother leaving your house at all if you aren't really paying attention to where you are going or the people you are with?

Can you imagine how unbelievably rude it would be for someone to pick up a book and start silently reading it in the middle of a dinner party? Not only are you obviously ignoring the people around you, but you are also letting them know they just aren't that important to you. It occurs to me that the adult’s in today’s society should relearn the rules of childhood…”Stop, Look, and Listen.” “Stop” using your cell phone, and put it away. “Look” at where you are and commit to the people and places around you. “Listen” to the person who is talking to you attentively. I think it would be an excellent idea for restaurants to have a “Cell phone check” along with their “Coat check.”

I know that some parent’s are worried about leaving their kid’s with a sitter, and they want to be able to call and check up on their children and be reachable in case of an emergency.  How in the world did our parents and grandparents ever leave the house without modern technology? Well, they simply left a list of emergency contact numbers with the sitter. It has been my experience that if given the opportunity, children will call/text their parent all night for all sorts of reasons. From simple questions, “Can I have the last piece of pie” to making complaints “Sally won’t let me have a turn on the Wii!” Leaving a list of emergency contacts is an easy solution to allow parents to enjoy an evening out in peace, and leave their cell phones tucked away.

I propose a challenge to all my readers this weekend. Turn your cell phones off, turn your attention to your surroundings, and see how much more you and the people around you enjoy the moment together...even if it's just for that moment.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Congratulations! Now Get To Work!

It is astonishing how many parties I have been to at a home that was filthy dirty. I’m not talking about someone who didn't dust the top of the refrigerator, I’m talking about homes that are covered in dust, debris, and pet hair, sticky floors that look like they haven’t been cleaned in years, dishes with stuck on food you are afraid to eat off of, or even kitty litter pans over flowing with a stench so bad that it burns your eyes (yes, I've actually had that experience!).  It’s horrifying to watch a mother pull a huge dust bunny out of her toddler’s mouth, or see a guest walk around with pet hair all over the back of their pants from sitting on the furniture. Cleaning your home well should be a priority before every party!

That being said let me begin the real topic of this blog. If you have offered to throw a party in someone’s honor (Bridal/Baby Shower, Graduation, Welcome Home/Farewell, etc.), it is NOT appropriate to ask or expect the Guest of Honor (or their spouse) to help clean before the big event. This exact thing has happened to two close friends of mine this past summer. Both had their Mother-in-law’s offer to host a party for them, and both Mother-in-law’s demanded they come and help rigorously clean in preparation before the party. Even thinking about the reality of my friend’s situations is still very shocking to me!

Hosting a party in someone’s honor is a wonderful thing. It shows the guests and the guest of honor how important they, and their celebrated event, are to you. Hosting a party is a great joy, but it is also very demanding of your time, and resources. Your hard work and sacrifices should not be taken lightly and hopefully the guest of honor will show great appreciation for all you have done. However, just because you have chosen to take on this event does not mean the guest of honor owes you a debt, and it is not their responsibility to prepare your home for the event. I honestly don’t know what is going on in these people’s heads! Do they feel that since they are opening up their home, spending their money, and dedicating so much of their time for the guest of honor then the guest of honor can at least come over and help them clean? By asking, expecting, or even demanding your guest of honor to clean your house for a party you have offered to host you are essentially saying “Congratulations! Now get to work!”

Furthermore, I would like to point out that it is equally inappropriate to invite someone over for dinner and expect them to help you prepare for dinner by having the guest set the table, cut up vegetables, or do the dishes in the sink, etc., or expect them to help clean up after dinner. The point I am making is simply this: You are the Host/Hostess and they are the invited Guest. Guest’s in your home should be treated no differently than you would expect to be treated at formal event, restaurant, or hotel. If this is more than you are willing to do, then just don’t offer to host. It’s as simple as that.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Shoes Are Not An Accessory

I love social parties. I love getting the invitation (in the mail or online), finding the perfect outfit, and finding the perfect pair of shoes to complete it. However, nothing will kill my party "buzz" quicker than walking through the front door and being required to take off my shoes! I want so badly to refuse, to walk right up to the Host/Hostess and say "Do you know how much time, money, and stress went into my outfit for this night? Don't you see how amazing my shoes look with my outfit? Who is going to notice my amazing shoes when they are at the front door clumped together with dozens of others?!"

Making guests uncomfortable for your own agenda, such as protecting your precious floors, is probably one of my biggest pet peeves. I understand that some people put a lot of money and work into making their homes beautiful, and they do not want to see their beautiful floors scuffed or scratched by someones shoes. Please allow me to bluntly remind you that floors are made for walking on! They have no other purpose in life other than providing a foundation for your feet and furniture. Whether they are hardwood, tile, carpet, marble, or concrete...they are still just floors. Making guests, that you invited to attend your party, remove their shoes at the front door is rude, selfish, and ridiculous. Most women spend many hours and lots of money on their shoes, and they are just as much a part of their outfit as the clothes they have on. Shoes are NOT an accessory. Think about the signs posted on store windows, "No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service." This further demonstrates my point: shoes are an integral part of an outfit.

Let me talk about this from a more practical point of view. Most people do not expect to have to remove their shoes when attending a party and most likely have not prepared for such a thing. What if your guest is wearing mismatched socks? What if someone has terrible corns, or bunions, or discolored toe nails and isn't wearing any socks at all? What if some of your guests have a fear, dislike, or even a fetish for feet? Or what if someone simply isn't comfortable taking off their shoes? Having your guests remove their shoes will not only make them feel uncomfortable, it may also cause quite a bit of embarrassment as well. As a Host/Hostess it is your duty to make your guests feel as welcomed and comfortable as possible. By requiring your guests to remove their shoes at the door, your "welcome" is now as cold as the floor under your guests bare feet.

How do you remedy this problem? Personally, I think giving your guests slippers or socks to wear is just tacky and still rude. My suggestion is you either put down rugs to protect your floors, or you research ways to remove the scuffs and scrapes that may occur. Either way, your guests will be more comfortable and enjoy themselves more with their shoes ON.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

In My Perfect World

Having been raised in a family where putting your elbows on the table at dinner would immediately result in a fork being jabbed into your elbow for prompt removal, my sense of etiquette and manners is a deeply ingrained part of my personality. As much as I am an obsessive critic on how people behave socially, I am also an advocate for casual etiquette on a day to day basis. I have created this blog to share my thoughts, critiques, and insight, on the events and observances in my life. I can almost certainly promise you that my writings will cause each reader to go through a full range of emotions with each post...some days I may validate your opinions, make you laugh, make you cry, or make you want to punch a hole in the wall. Either way I hope to intrigue your interests enough to keep you coming back for more. This blog is about how I think people should behave in my perfect world...I hope you will all agree.