Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Non-Parent's Guide to Baby Shower Gifts

I just bought some gifts for some friends who are expecting a baby in February, and it made me think of how much my idea of what constitute good baby shower gifts has changed since having a baby of my own. Before having my baby I would usually buy clothes and/or toys. After all, baby clothes and toys are so cute! Baby clothes and toys are so fun to shop for! But now, I'd rather buy someone a Diaper Genie or some burp cloths. Because now I realize that the most-appreciated gifts are the practical ones...even if the parents don't know it yet.

Congratulating expecting or new parents is probably the only gift giving event when people actually need things. Now that people are getting married later the concept of wedding gifts, which used to help the newlyweds establish a household, now mostly serve to upgrade things the couple already have (or may even have two of if they weren't living together beforehand). But unless someone has a good source for hand-me-downs, most new parents are starting from scratch.  If they don't receive key baby gear as gifts the parents will probably have to buy it themselves, which can add up to a lot of expenses at a time when one or both parents may be about to take unpaid leave.

Of course, "need" is relative. We all have relatives with stories of babies sleeping in dresser drawers, and $900 designer strollers do seem excessive. Still, most people won't argue there are some basic items that are really nice to have when you have a new baby.

At the risk of offending people who bought presents for my baby showers (assuming they haven't already angrily closed their browser windows before getting to this point), I will say that clothes and toys aren't bad gifts. Certainly, I received some good ones, and I really like them. But still, I must say that the gifts I received that have had the most impact were:

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Do Not Disturb: Courtesy in a Highly Connected World

My granny always said that you shouldn't call people before 9 AM or after 9 PM unless it's an emergency. With occasional exceptions--when I know people's schedules--I still try to follow her advice. However, that rule is not enough anymore. Now we have text messages and emails and Twitter/Facebook updates all of which may create notifications on our phones. And many of us keep those phones by our beds to use as alarms or just in case there is an emergency. Any form electronic update has the potential to disturb us from sleep (or our "busy getting ready" morning time or our "just want to relax" before bed time).

So does that mean you can't use ANY form of communication before 9 AM or after 9 PM? (If you immediately think that's silly you have obviously never known an early morning texter.) Of course, if you know someone is awake--for example, you are meeting for late night plans--feel free to keep in contact by whatever means makes sense, but this post is about those times when you don't know for sure and don't want to disturb anyone.

Plan ahead.
If you know a person who regularly keeps different hours than you due to work schedules, time zones, or general lifestyle, ask how he or she would prefer to be contacted and when. Perhaps someone doesn't get email updates on her phone, so you can use that at anytime without disturbing her. Or perhaps another friend doesn't mind if you wake him up. One example I know from experience: it's considerate to ask new mothers how they'd like to be contacted because you don't want to be the one who woke up baby, mommy, or both.

But sometimes you haven't planned ahead, and you want to contact someone at an odd time. Maybe you can't sleep and want to see if someone else is awake. Maybe you just got a brilliant idea that you want to share before you forget it. Because everyone's schedules and phone settings are different it is difficult to make rules that will work for everyone every time, but here are some guidelines for using electronic communication with a courtesy that will usually prevent you from waking and/or annoying your friends, family, and other contacts.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

I'm Royalty!

I have been named to RedEye Royalty. I'm honored to be recognized as a Chicago blogger/twitterer only three months after starting this site.

I plan to use that blog space for sillier stuff most of the time, but my first post is about how social media is bringing people together to save orphans in Haiti. Before you read that though I encourage you to go to thatschurch.com to see the most recent updates regarding the BRESMA Orphanage. If you have the means to help, please do; otherwise, share the link and the story in hopes that the word can get to someone capable of assisting those children and their caretakers.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


By now any sentient being should be aware that a devasting earthquake has hit Haiti. Many people are dead. Many more need help. I try not to swear on this blog, but that country's status is most simply described as fucked.

These are the days when you need to look around you and give thanks for what you have. I'm pretty confident that anyone with the opportunity to read this is far better off than pretty much anyone in Haiti right now, which means you should do three things:
  1. Be thankful for what you have.
  2. Hug someone you care about.
  3. Give.
That last step is the one that many people forget. You don't have to give much if you don't have much. The phrase "every little bit counts" exists for a reason. Buy a regular coffee instead of a latte and donate the difference. Dig for change in the couch. Donate something. Donate anything. Many experts have stated that what charity organizations need most right now is money.  Here is a good list of options: http://www.theworld.org/2010/01/13/donations-for-haiti-quake-victims/

But you don't even need to spend a dime. Some blogs are celebrating "delurking day" whereby the authors will donate money for each comment they receive. Go read their blogs and leave a comment. (You might even find a new site for your RSS feed!)
I'm not doing that here because this is a new blog with limited readership, so it would be embarrassing. I donated $100 to Doctors without Borders regardless of my popularity. But to keep in the spirit of things, if I get comments from more than 25 people I'll donate another $100.

And for anyone reading this from anywhere in the world, I am happy you are alive.

photo of Red Eye Chicago from http://twitter.com/designhawg

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Grieving on Social Media

Scott Kleinberg at Red Eye Chicago wrote a post in which he asked "Is it in poor taste to mourn in public via a social network like Facebook or Twitter?" His personal is answer, "I say not at all. We all mourn differently." I agree with that, but I also feel there are some things to think about before you post your grief online. Additionally, those seeing an online message of grieving need to think about how they respond.

Not wanting to ramble on in the comments field and needing a blog topic for this week, below you will find my tips for the grieving and their friends & followers online. Before you read on you may want to look at Scott's article for the complete background to this post and some great comments from his readers.

Social Media Considerations for the Grieving
Yes, we all mourn differently. If you are a heavy social media user it may feel natural to include news of your loss in those forums. Do what makes you comfortable, but before you update that status or send that tweet consider a few things:

  • Are there people who don't yet know about the death that should find out more directly? Although not quite second-hand, hearing about something via a wall post or public tweet is far from personal. Take reasonable steps to make sure that the people who should know first do. Some people should probably get a phone call, while others may just need a quick email or text message. Try not to let someone very close to you or the deceased feel like he or she was the last to know.
  • Consider the privacy of other survivors. It is likely that other people in your network are suffering the same loss, but they may prefer to grieve in private. Realize that posting something, for example, about a friend passing away may result in a lot of unwanted messages to the friend's spouse from mutual friends. Take care not to broadcast information that other's may prefer to keep private.
  • Don't grieve on LinkedIn. You wouldn't put the date of your brother's death on your resume, so don't put it on a professional networking site. Ditto for professional blogs. For example, this blog has a specific purpose: providing etiquette tips and other advice. An obituary does not belong here, although I have written about loss on a personal blog.
For Online Friends and Followers of the Bereaved
So, somewhere between Farmville updates and bit.ly links you see that someone someone is grieving. How should you react? (Note: This advice is for people who are not particularly close to the other person: the casual connection or follower. Of course, close friends should offer additional support than that described here , but that is most appropriate out of public channels.)
  • Do not click "Like." At first you may think you'd clearly never do that, but imagine a post similar to "Grandma is at peace now." You like being at peace, right? That's good, right? Yes, but still don't click like. It's too easily misinterpreted.
  • Keep it simple. My husband often says that people online are just looking for a gentle squeeze on the arm. A simple "I'm sorry for your loss" goes a long way. Too much outpouring of sympathy from someone who follows your tweets or who you haven't spoken to since high school can feel awkward. And unless requested, advice can be unwelcome in early stages of grief.
  • But don't say, "I'm sorry to hear that." Although not what people mean, this literally says that you are sorry to have found out about the person's loss not that you are sorry the loss occurred. Banish this phrase from your writing and your speech.
  • Don't politicize the death. Unless the bereaved is championing a certain cause in honor of the deceased, don't use their grief post as a forum for proselytizing. For instance, when a soldier dies the family and friends don't want to hear your views on war. 
  • Don't judge. Maybe you would never consider posting about personal loss online. Maybe you think it's tacky. Fine. Don't be tacky yourself by confronting a grieving person about their choice to post. Ignore the update. If you are really offended, unfriend or unfollow. The only exception is if you are a family member or close friend of the deceased. In that case it is appropriate to politely request that an offending post be removed, but realize that the author may not do so.
What are your thoughts about grieving online? Have you done it? What responses did you want? What responses did you get?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Enjoy Live Theater (Politely)

I love live theater. You know, the thing that's like movies but isn't on a screen. (Amazing 3D effects without special glasses!) I've been participating in theater since I was a little girl studying at the San Francisco Children's Opera. Since then I've moved from actor to choreographer to director to playwright, also finding time to serve as an enthusiastic audience member.

In case you don't know, there is a lot more theater than Shakespeare and musicals. If you aren't a regular goer, I encourage you to check your local theater listings and see something new this year. Perhaps you should put it on your uberlist.

Some assume theater is a bit snooty, but I assure you that much of it is really laid back. (If you are looking for a more casual atmosphere try theaters described as "black box" or "storefront.") Of course, there still is etiquette for theater. Live theater etiquette is pretty much the same as movie theater etiquette. The difference is that the impact of rudeness at live theater is greater because you are potentially disturbing the performers as well as the audience. So in honor of a production of one of my plays opening this weekend* here are some guidelines for proper theater etiquette: