Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Set Goals with an Uberlist

It's hard to believe that 2009 is nearly over. Of course, I tend to feel that way most years around this time. Realizing the things I *meant* to do this year but never did is part of the shock of the year being over. Some things are practical (renewing my passport in my married name); others are just fun (going to the zoo, going to a restaurant I've been meaning to try).

I think I have more uncompleted items this year because I didn't make an uberlist for 2009. I didn't know how many other goals I'd have time to achieve after my unwritten to do items of

  • birthing a baby and
  • keeping him alive.

But after succeeding with both items (!) I feel confident with challenging myself with an uberlist again for 2010.

What's an uberlist? It's a list of goals for the year. The goals span multiple areas of life and range from a few hours of commitment to resolution-esque major life improvements.

The uberlist is an idea I borrowed from some friends a few years ago. I find the list better than a New Year's resolution in a number of ways. It is a documented list. Whether on paper or in a spreadsheet an uberlist is a contract with yourself as opposed to a resolution which is often only spoken and often only when asked, while drunk, at a New Year's Eve party. Putting goals into words tends to lead to more concrete items rather than resolutions which can often be very abstract (i.e. "get healthy"). Also, by having multiple goals I avoid putting all my self-improvement into one resolution basket that is likely to dissolve by mid-January. Plus, I get to enhance my life as a whole rather than pick on one perceived flaw.

So, how do you create an uberlist?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Give the gift of digitalization (or the opposite)

Homemade gifts are nice during the holidays, but those who don't have the talents of a budding etsy entrepreneur may feel that shopping is the only option. Heck, even if you can knit/paint/sew/craft like a fiend, it's a little late now to pursue much of that as gift options. However, if you have a computer you can use it to create gifts (and not just to buy them online). Of course, you can give the gift of links to your favorite web sites, but for something a bit more generous you can offer to digitize things someone already has. Conversely, if someone is completely digital you can transfer their assets back to a physical form.

Offering to transfer things a person owns into a digital archive gives him or her greater portability and insurance against loss. To choose an appropriate gift you do need to know something about what a person has and values, but the time involved in any of these gifts means that you'd be unlikely to give them to someone to whom you aren't close. Here are some ideas:

Monday, December 14, 2009

10 Favorite Websites

I had no idea what to get you for Christmas, so stealing an idea from Roger Ebert, I’m giving you the gift of websites I love that you may have never heard of. Since I’m in a stealing mood, I’ll steal a line from Oprah that she stole from Julie Andrews: These are a few of my favorite things! (And although etiquette says that a gift requires nothing more than a thank you in return, I'd love if you want to recommend other websites in the comments.)

Staggering Works of genius

1. Roger Ebert http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/
Due to his battle with cancer Roger Ebert can no longer speak or eat, but thankfully he can still write. I grew up watching his movie reviews, which he continues to do online, but his journal is where the best stuff is posted: profound and witty commentaries on a wide variety of subjects. He’s also a must follow on Twitter @ebertchicago.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Give Gifts not Garbage

Regarding gifts, some say it’s the thought that counts, but they usually don’t say that unless they’re referencing a terrible gift. Regardless, whether it’s the thought or the gift that matters few would say it’s the wrapping that’s most important. Sure you might comment on the lovely wrapping when you first see a gift , but will you be talking months from now about the beautiful wrapping paper? No. You’re going to be talking about how great the gift was or how it was a very nice thought. So why spend the extra money and add more trash to the planet to wrap things up in shiny paper and decadent gift bags?

Below are four ways to avoid conventional wrapping paper. All promote recycling. Many will save you money. None require arts and craft skills. (Sure you could use paint or stamps to make things fancier, but you don’t need to unless you are especially motivated.)

1. Detour something on its way to the recycle bin

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Hosting and Dietary Restrictions

Whether for healthy, religious, ethical, political or allergy reasons, it seems like there are limitless possibilities for what people won't eat. But as a host you can serve whatever you want, right? Well, sort of. It's your party and you can fry what you want to, but a good host also tries to make her guests feel welcome. Here are some tips for being a considerate host without having to act as short order cook.

As a host you need to accept that vegetarianism (not eating meat) is pretty common nowadays, as a result you should always include meatless items in your menu. The only exception a small sit down dinner party where you know all the guests are omnivores. However, when serving a crowd you should plan on there being at least one vegetarian. Luckily, this is one of the easiest restrictions to accommodate.

First, make vegetables vegetarian. We omnivores sometimes use bacon like a seasoning, which can result in many dishes that feature vegetables but aren't vegetarian. Indulge your pork addiction in close company, but when serving a crowd leave the meat out of anything that features vegetables. Don't forget to replace any chicken or beef broth used in the preparation.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Topics to Avoid on Thanksgiving

For topics to avoid in your Thanksgiving conversations see my guest post for the Etiquette Bitch at Chicago Now.

Thanksgiving Dinner is Just Dinner

For all the fuss I make about Christmas, Thanksgiving may actually be my favorite holiday.  A day of eating, d drinking and lounging?  What's not to like? Still, the first time I was planning to host a crowd for Thanksgiving I was nervous. I called my mom and asked for advice. She told me something that has helped me every year since, "Thanksgiving isn't hard." And it isn't.

Multitudes of sitcoms and movies have reinforced a myth that Thanksgiving dinner inevitably is a disaster. Pair that with hosts who may rarely entertain (or even cook) on other days of the year plus the pressure of potentially judgmental relatives, and it's easy to see how people could get freaked out.

If you are feeling the pressure of hosting Thanksgiving take a deep breath and say it with me, "It's just a dinner."  Actually, roasting a turkey, like most cooking that occurs over several hours, is pretty forgiving.  If you relax you and follow the recipes you should be fine, but here are some tips to reduce your stress and increase your chances of a successful Thanksgiving meal:

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Planning to Enjoy Your Own Party

I've thrown an annual Christmas Party every year since 1993. It was fashioned after the party my mother had thrown for years before that. Over the years it evolved. For the long time I lived in Pittsburgh the attendance grew each year as more and more friends considered it a part of their holiday traditions. As I've moved to new cities the tradition continues although the attendance is smaller.

But here's a secret. There were a few years when I didn't want to throw the party. I dreaded it. I only continued because I felt pressured by all those who looked forward to my party year after year. By the people who would ask as me for the date as early as October to avoid any December scheduling conflicts. By the people who had "already bought a new dress for the Christmas party!"

Why didn't I enjoy a party that was clearly successful? That so many people looked forward to? Because it had become too much work. At its peak I would have 40 or more guests. I made everything from scratch. Everything. I wouldn't even buy a prepared vegi tray! I'd start the day after Thanksgiving (sometimes sooner) preparing several dozen types of cookies and a full array of heavy hors d'ouevres. The work would build until the party itself during which I was constantly refreshing trays, heating small batchs of hot foods, and refreshing the mulled wine. I barely had time to greet my guests much less talk to them. I wasn't hosting the parties; I was catering them! Something had to change.

Instead of quitting, I scaled back the party. I didn't make absolutely everything. I made some simpler items such as more bar cookies than decorative ones.  I bought some prepared items like hummus and marinated cheese balls. Do you know what? People still enjoyed themselves! And what's more, I enjoyed myself!

Now, you may not throw parties of that magnitude, but hosting on any scale can be stressful. If you've ever been overwhelmed by the prospect of hosting an event, whether it be a small dinner or a large party, these tips will help make hosting fun again for the holidays and year round.

First, pare down your plans. Despite the holiday theme of my annual party, I haven't had a Christmas tree for 6 years.** Why? Sure, I love the look of a tree, particularly with the many beautiful ornaments that I've collected over the years.  However, getting a tree and decorating it had become a dreaded task rather than a lovely  tradition. Although I still fill my home with festive decorations, skipping the tree saves me hours of time that I can spend on cooking, which is my preferred activity. Perhaps you feel the opposite. Then, cut back on cooking (e.g. get a caterer, ask people to bring something), so you can spend more time trimming the perfect tree. Changing the type of party can help you pare down as well. A dessert only party will be easier than a dinner party. A tree-trimming party means you only have to bring the decorations out of the basement, but you don't have to do the actual decorating.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Evite for Guests: Reply!

So you've received a message from evite. This, like any invitation, is the start of a social contract. It's someone extending a hand to shake yours or raising a palm to give you a high five. And like a high five offered it is rude to keep your host hanging. Out of respect for your host you should reply. Even if an evite doesn't specify a requirement to RSVP or convey "regrets only" it is courteous to reply, particularly since it only takes a few seconds. Whether you plan to attend or not or aren't sure, your host will appreciate you acknowledging the invitation.

Reply immediately! You are in the invitation already, so it doesn't take much time to make the appropriate clicks to enter a reply. You don't know whether you are going or not? There's a word for that: "Maybe." Are you afraid you won't remember to go back in and change your response once you determine whether or not you are going? Don't worry about it. Most hosts count on about half the maybes to attend. If there needs to be an exact guest count for the event, the host will follow up with you.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Evite for Hosts

The holiday season is fast approaching which means many party and dinner invitations are about to be exchanged. Traditional etiquette favors paper invitations, but electronic versions are common replacements. I don't mind the move to invitations via evite and facebook. After all, the money saved on paper, printing, and postage can be applied to the event itself. Plus, it's more environmentally friendly. However, the reputation of electronic invitations has been marred by the bad behavior of both hosts and guests. This is the first in a series of posts to help elevate the practice of exchanging electronic invitations this season. I start with guidance to those who want to send invitations via evite.

Your invitation, regardless of its medium, is the first impression for your party. Its style should be true to the upcoming event. Subtle colors, classic fonts, and simple images will convey a fancier event (e.g. a nice dinner party); whereas bright colors and wacky clip art are good for something more casual (e.g. a football gathering or crazy Christmas sweater party). Imagine printing out your invitation and displaying it prominently at your event. Would the style of the evite be consistent with the decor and desired tone?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Non-Parent's Guide to Toy-Buying

Holiday sales have already begun, so I'm aware that some people (not me) may be starting their gift shopping soon.  It may seem tacky to promote gift-buying guidance as a form of etiquette, but I think we've all gotten a gift at one time or another that inspired a truly sincere "You SHOULDN'T have." In this economy, I feel it's polite to help people not to waste their time and money on things that are likely to inspire more frustration than appreciation.

As a new mother, I am particularly sensitive to this because I realize that my son may be magnet for some well-intentioned but not well thought out presents.  Before I was a parent I saw other people's kids as an excuse to buy "fun" kid's stuff.  I now see that some of those purchases were a bit misguided (Sorry), but I hope not to have to regret anyone else's generosity.  Luckily my son is so young this year that if anyone gives me something misguided it can be fixed with a return, but parents of older kid's may have trouble getting an inappropriate toy away from an admiring youngster.  So, for anyone who may not have kids (or whose kids are so old that you've forgotten the fundamentals), here is a guide to picking out toys that will inspire the parents to write thank you letters instead of death threats.

1. Toys have recommended age ranges.  You may think something is just sooooooo cute and clever, but check the tag.  If the child is younger than the recommended age range the toy is likely too complicated or DANGEROUS.  Don't make a parents choose between politeness and their child's safety.

2. Avoid toys that make lots of noise, whether it be from recorded sounds or encouraged banging (i.e. a drum set).  Different parents have different opinions of these things, but unless you are sure of their feelings err on the side of something quiet.  I personally am okay with banging (which is good because my son does it a lot), but I have low tolerance for the tinny recorded music/voices/nature sounds that seem to be embedded in just about everything nowadays.  They say in gift giving "it's the thought that counts," but you really don't want your name connected with the thoughts that hearing a millionth metallic rendition of "Old MacDonald" can inspire.

3. Avoid toys with a lot of pieces.  If you followed item one this isn't an issue for a few years since a billion little pieces are a billion little choking hazards.  However, once age appropriate things like Legos are very good toys, but that doesn't mean you have to be the one to buy them.  Similar to avoiding the blame for the maddening cacophony of noisy toys, you don't want to have your name attached to the end of the expletive that the mom will scream every time she steps barefooted on a jagged piece of plastic that didn't get put away.

4. Ask the parents for ideas, or if you have an idea ask if it seems appropriate.  The parents know what they'll be comfortable having their child received.  It will spoil the surprise, but some surprises are best spoiled.

Does that all seem too complicated?  Why don't you give a nice book?  Or, if you really want something the parents can appreciate, free babysitting is always nice.  Plus you'll get to see first hand what toys are just asking to be "accidentally" lost forever.

Saturday, October 24, 2009


Welcome to Post Emily Post, a blog of "do unto others" etiquette for modern social situations.  This is a new experiment, but the plan for the time being is to do one post per week, probably publishing on Tuesdays.  That's not enough for you?  Follow me on Twitter where I plan to post a tip a day!


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Chivalry, Ladies, Is Not Rude

Yes, we are women hear us roar. Yes, sisters are doing it for themselves. Yes, our mystique is feminine. But hey, ladies, get funky. And by that I clearly mean, please don’t be offended by chivalrous acts.

A man who opens a door for you or pulls out your chair or offers to carry your grocery is rarely doing it because he thinks you are incapable. He’s probably being nice, or at minimum he’s doing it because chivalry has been ingrained in him by his mother, which is pretty sweet if you think about it. If you are looking for men to view as misogynist swine, chivalrous gentlemen should be the last on your list. That guy who lets the door slam on your face is the one who doesn’t view you as a human being worthy of his time.

If you take offense at an innocent act of chivalry and reprimand the guy for performing it, you not only risk embarrassing him and making him feel bad but you piss off me and other women who appreciate such gestures and who may not get to enjoy them because you have now convinced this guy that it’s not worth it because women just get mad. Seriously, if a guy is willing to open my door, move my sofa, or pay for my meal, I think it’s wonderful. Don’t f*ck that up for me! Say “thank you” and get on with your day of ball-crushing dominance.

(Full disclosure: I happen to be married to a rather chivalrous gentleman.)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Don't Enable Voyeurs (Or Be One)

The problem with cell phone cameras is that people can take them anywhere.  The common example is a locker room, but I read today about a stage manager who used his iPhone to spy on an actress in her dressing room.  Hopefully I don't need to point out that being a voyeur is not only impolite but also, generally, illegal.  However, less egregious examples are worthy of some etiquette-oriented reflection.

Having a camera constantly on the ready prevents a lot of "darn, I wish I had brought a camera moments."  That combined with the essentially free nature of digital photographs enables a whole lot of pictures to be taken that might never have been captured in the past.  Additionally, the Internet allows for these images to be shared widely.  This is great for showing the grandparents a baby's first steps, but it also results in the journalistic recording of far less noble events.

I know they are funny, but please don't publish embarrassing photos of your friends without their consent.  And if you publish a photo that a friend wants to be "untagged" from or wants to have totally deleted, please respect those wishes.  (True, nothing is ever truly deleted from the Internet.  Cached archives get generated too quickly, and you never know who may have done a right-click>save already.  Still, you can minimize the damage by removing something quickly.)  Realize that your definition of embarrassing may vary from that of your friend, or they may want the picture removed for another reason. Perhaps they are avoiding a stalker.  Perhaps they are trying to establish a false alibi.  Perhaps it just makes them look fat.  Regardless, the polite thing to do is to give them some control over images of them put on the web.

Additionally I add this even though few will heed it: Please don't post embarrassing pictures of strangers.  I know we are a voyeuristic society, but most of you won't think "People of Walmart" is nearly as funny when you find yourself featured on it.  If a photo goes viral it can make its way back to the subject who may not be as amused.  If someone is amused by an embarrassing photo that person is probably a reality-show-seeking exhibitionist, who should not be encouraged.  The classy thing is not to mock strangers in a public forum.  (In private forums, however, this is called "wit" or "social satire" and will usually improve your cocktail party banter.)

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Are you coming or not?!?

A friend just posted this status on Facebook:

$^#& - if you don't want to come to a wedding then don't RSVP. That's what RSVP cards are for! Honestly, I don't mind if you say "no" to the RSVP, but don't say "yes" only to change your mind 2 days be...fore. Most people don't realize (until they've planned a wedding) that the meals/slots are nonrefundable starting the week of... I bet I'm going to cross the "$1k wasted on ghost-guests" threshold today...

 My short answer is "yes!"

It's astonishing to me how many people don't RSVP to events or change their answer at the last minute.  This may not be a big deal for a casual affair, but for a wedding or something else requiring planning knowing the guest count is very important to your host.  Not responding or changing your response is just plain inconsiderate. 

Sure, occasionally an invitation gets lost or circumstances may make you able to attend or not attend at the last minute.  If that happens, apologize vehemently!  Unfortunately, many people are habitual non-responders or mind changers.  If that is you, stop it.  You're costing people money.  In the case of an event with seat assignments you are also causing stress because adjusting seating charts is a pain in the ass.

I think the level of rudeness increases with the formality of the event.  Therefore, these breaches of etiquette are most egregious for something like a wedding.  However, most hosts appreciate having an idea of how many people to expect, so it is thoughtful to respond accuarately to evites and Facebook announcements as well.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Subject: Use One

I have a feeling technology will be a frequent subject on this blog.  Technology has made us more interconnected than ever before, but it also creates more opportunities for rudeness and misunderstanding.  Decorum is often overlooked in exchange for a quick contact fix, in a serious need for some etiquette guidance.

For this first technology etiquette post I'll start at the top...of an email that is:
Always include meaningful subject lines on your emails.

Include as much detail in the subject line as you can without becoming overly long.  For example, "lunch today?" is a better subject line than just "lunch?" because it makes it clear that you are not asking about "lunch next Friday?"

The subject line is there for a reason.  It helps someone to identify which messages to read first.  Perhaps more importantly, it helps someone locate a message that was previously read.

The subject line also helps confirm that this email is from a person as opposed to being generated by a virus or spambot.  This is particularly important if you are sending a message to someone who may not immediately recognize your name, but security savvy friends who may know that email addresses can be spoofed may be wary of emails with subjects like "hello" or "that file you wanted" even if they are from a familiar sender.  To help ensure that your email doesn't get dragged to the spam folder include a meaningful subject line.

In threaded email clients, like GMail, the subject line is used to group related messages.  As a result, it is important not only to include a meaningful subject line but also to change the subject line if you are sending a reply that is off topic.  This will help the recipient find your message later without having to remember that you sent that handyman's phone number in the thread about a friend's upcoming birthday party.

In a world of rapidly refilling inboxes, most people will appreciate any assistance they can get in organizing their many incoming email messages.  Including meaningful subject lines is considerate, increases the likelihood that your message will be read, and only takes a few seconds.