Regifting Ettiquette

I approach this subject with a certain degree of fear and trepidation. Not just because I’ve had numerous requests for me to address the most-sensitive-of-holiday-topics, but because today, I turned on the ‘anonymous comments’ capability. For non-authors, this is like an Amish streaking naked in Times Square. So please, be kind. Keep in mind this is one woman’s opinion, and that deep, deep, down, I’m a good person. Really.

On one hand, I have Roger, who is obsessively opposed to re-gifting. Or, rather, he was for the first ten years of our marriage. During that time, he insisted we keep every set of Chinese balls, homemade candles, hallucenagenic incense, odd-shaped paperweights and every type of knick-knack, (Not the Brazilian thong supplier, thanks very much!)

His points were valid. The giver went to the time and effort of finding, purchasing and/or making the item especially for us. It’s his contention that to not use the item, or worse, place it out of site, insults the giver of the gift. No matter what, appreciation should be shown to the giver by keeping and displaying said gift.

Fair points all.  Appreciation and gratitude should absolutely be expressed. It’s always sincere, even if the pilgrim shaped Thanksgiving soap holder doesn’t quite work with my bathroom. It was a nice thought, cost money to purchase and send. A receiver could have it worse, and receive no gift at all.

That said, I apply some rules to gifts, gift usage and re-gifting.


Rule number one. Never, ever, EVER lie.

Just tonight, Rog and I were discussing the joys of honesty.

“Honesty is attractive,” he told me. I’d never thought of it that way, but I agreed. He then went on to tell me that “honesty is persistent.” In other words, the truth will catch up with you.

Let me give you an example. One year, when I was in my early twenties, I attended a holiday white elephant party. I’d never done so before, and was asked to bring an item worth less than five bucks. I looked in my cupboard, found a glass vegetable platter still in it’s box, and figured its was just the ticket. Proud of my item, I wrapped it and took it to the party.

The party planner put us in a circle and we played a game that required the participants to open and “pass around” the gift. The rules are not-important; the outcome is. Suffice it to say that my plate was opened, and a man in the room recognized the plate. In front of the entire room, he asked where I got it, and I was caught off-guard. Instead of saying it was a gift I never used, I said I purchased it the year before. With a red face, he told me that was interesting, since he purchased a plate in Germany for his wife, just like the one I held in my hands.

The room went silent. Shuffles, laughter, odd looks. It was horrid. The reality was the gift had been given to me as a birthday present the year before. I lost five pounds from sweaty armpits. All I could do was shrug my shoulders and say “what a coincidence!” and move on.

All was not lost. A few days later, the same guy told me he was mortally wounded his wife had given me the plate HE gave HER as an “I love you” gift. The anger he showed toward me was redirected hurt stemming from his wife’s re-gifting. This leads to rule number 2.

Rule number two. If you are going to regift, do it in another state.
Oh. My. Lands. This one was classic. Last year, we had a Christmas party where many guests brought gifts. A good many were plants, some that needed immediate planting, a few that gave us allergic reactions, and one that we were morally opposed to keeping.

The latter plant in this case, an ivy, is plant-non-gratta in this household. It’s an invasive species in Washington, and takes over, kills and consumes everything in its path like the borg ship from h–l. In this case, the plant had no tag on it telling us the person who gave the gift.

The following week, I had a business-client event to go to, and wanted to bring a gift. The ivy! we both thought. We were pleased that we could re-use and regift the item. No sooner did I enter the room and drop the gift off when my good friend (a client turned friend actually) came up to me and commented on the plant. She asked where I got it, and I said in hushed tones, that it was a gift, but didn’t have a tag on it.

“That was my gift to you!” she exclaimed. This moment of mortification (MOM) gave me a flashback to the time I ran in to a former co-worker at the mall. She was shopping with the new husband (I with a boyfriend) and she had a huge pooch in her belly. The rest of her was as thin as I remembered, but her tummy looked six or seven months pregnant.

I patted it, and asked when she was due.

Silence.

“I’m not pregnant,” she said. “I’m happily married and must have put on weight.”

True story.

Fortunately, my friend was more good natured about my clueness-ness than my former co-worker. However, I will never, ever make that mistake again.

Rule number three. Don’t regift in-family.
This is akin to the ‘don’t marry your cousin policy.’ I’m not just talking immediate family members. I’m talking your family to his family (spouses) or cousin to cousin. For example, if I received a seashell-inspired turnip peeler from my mother-in-law (never have btw) and gave it to my own sister, and she mentioned it at a birthday party for my daughter (that they both attended), the re-gifting would be obvious. Not good. (note my requirement to change the names and items of the innocent to protect the guilty?)

Rule number four. Use the gift at least once.
See rule number one. This ensures you satisfy the inevitable question of “how did you like the gift?” You can honestly respond, “we used the macrame towel in our guest bathroom!” while looking the gift-giver squarely in the eye. However, make sure you don’t receive another unwanted towel by identifying your style of decor, what you really need, then drop hints throughout the year about things you “simply can’t find!” This last year, I went so far as to send relatives links to $9 dollar lip gloss that makes me as nearly as happy as driving a clean car, and a lot cheaper than a macrame towel!

Rule number five. Tell/ask the giver if you can regift.
This last summer, my neighbor told me she was going to hold her annual garage sale. As is our custom, I went over early to check out the goods, and she came up, holding a hand-made rug I’d purchased for her in Mexico six or seven years earlier.

“I’ve had this, and never really used it,” she said. “Do you want it back or can I sell it?” I’ll admit, I was a little hurt. Rog and I had picked it out, hauled it back, and heck, it was cool looking. But truly, it wasn’t her style, nor that of her home. I respected the fact she held on to it, and she had even placed it over her living room couch for the first year.

I took it back. Now it sits in our laundry room, on top of other things I can’t really use but don’t want to discard.

Honesty hurts. But I like honesty. I can deal with honesty. It would have been far worse to see the blanket at a friend’s home, and learn she bought it at my neighbor’s garage sale!

The other day, I was asked if gifts have a shelf-life. Sure. What that shelf-life is, I have no clue. Two years? Five. Don’t know. Don’t want to find out. I recently justified it’s ok to regift after someone dies, moves, or is no longer a part of my life. That said, I’m still going to give it another year, just in case.










Weight loss programs that work and fail

Let me preface this blog with some history. I was born 6lbs 5 oz, and am 5’11”, though this latter fact is always disputed in my house. For the record, I’ve been 5’11” since age fifteen, measured multiple times, the most recent being for an insurance policy (in case I get knocked off, you read it here first). This last factoid is important because I’ve ranged from 115 as a hard-core runner to 185 as a pregnant person. My lean, eat-anything-I-want, is typically between 132-138. I’m now 148, which qualified me for a Premier elite with State Farm, but it’s still heavier than I’d like.

Growing up, my eldest brother called me ‘bird,’ a reference to my bone-thin legs. Though skinny, I was always an athlete, and that gave me a great foundation of muscle. But as my martial arts instructor told me one day: “You’ve overdeveloped your thigh muscles. It turns to fat when not utilized.” Sure enough, one to many pizza slices in college gave way to long work days in my twenties. By my thirties, bad patterns were set. Thus began my use of, and experimentation with, all sorts of diets.

I’d begin with simple eating right and exercising, but see no reason. That is a logical, reasonable way to approach a small jean size. Me? Give me the quick, results-right-now approach. Save reason for the uninformed.

Lemonade Diet
After reading how Beyonce used the Lemonade diet to drop 22 pounds in a month for her role in Dreamgirls, I went to Costco, purchased several bags of lemon, a few cans of Cayenne and Maple Syrup, and began a week of drinking hot, putrid tasting drinks and living on the toilet.

The results were indisputable. In four days, I lost seven pounds, in seven days, 10. The side effects were horrid. A pasty tongue (white), breath to kill a horse, stomach pains from the lemon, a natural diuretic (e.g. intestinal flush), and then diahrea like I’ve never experienced. (I’ll interject here that I’ve found many-read many many-female celebrities use this for it’s quick results).

Doesn’t that sound grand? Scale validation aside, it was the WRONG kind of weight loss. It was water weight, and I suspect, muscle tissue (for no protein was injested). The reason for my suspicion is I was left with these sickening, cellulitey legs (and if the muscle was strong underneath, the surface of the skin would have been smooth).

Not surprisingly, the weight returned one real food entered my system. Immediately. Hips and thighs shared the re-acceptance of the pounds with my arms and belly like the embrace between high school sweethearts.

Verdict? This is fine in times of absolute desperation–e.g. fitting in to that college outfit for your 20 year reunion, going to a wedding and the like. If you’re legs can be squinched in to nylons or under a dress. But don’t do it pre-bikini, and don’t expect the pounds to stay off. It comes right back on unless one goes back to the basics (exercise and eating right).

Mom is probably choking on her tongue as she reads this, for in fact, she hates fads and has never dieted a day in her life. Dieting for my naturally-thin mom means having one bowl of chocolate pudding, with half and half and a dollop of butter in the middle, instead of two. But I digress…

Grapefruit diet, cucumber diet, cabbage soup diet….

I’m happy to say I’ve not crossed this line, though I know people who have, and will admit it. I’m not sure why someone would eat a concentration-camp-esque diet in a modern, third world country, other than to write a novel about a torturous experience. Weight loss? Check. Rapid weight gain? Check. Not a single person I know who followed these diets lost more than 10 pounds, or kept a single pound off.

HCG Program
I’ve had many friends follow Dr. Trudeau’s HCG program, lose weight and keep it off (though it was originally created in Europe). While the premise sounds crazy (us American’s have a tendency to think anything not created in the US is crazy), I’ve seen it work, and yes, I’ll cop to it now, I’ve done it.
There. That was like passing a really bad piece of meat.
Facts–for 26 or 43 days,
Step 1-inject yourself with 30 ccs of diluted HCG (Human Growth Hormone), something that is extracted from the urine of a pregnant woman—

still there? Breathe…keep reading….

Step 2-eat as much as humanly possible for 3 days
Step 3-cut down to a prescribed 500 a day diet of specific proteins, fruits and vegetables, drink loads of water
Step 4-watch the weight fall off
Step 5-finish the injections, but keep to the 500 cal a day for 3 days, then return to normal caloric intake, without adding the starches (rice or potatoes) or sugars

Europeans have been doing this for thirty (30!) years. It resets the hypothalmus to the “normal” or original state (again, my lay-term). The body functions at optimal production.

Verdict. I’m sold. Dropped 15 pounds, kept it off, and reset my hypthalmus.

Before you think I’m a lunatic, know that I watched friends try this 3-decade old “fad” for 2 years before I was sold on injecting myself with another woman’s distilled urine. For heaven’s sakes, if someone had told me I’d be doing this, I’d have set aside my own freaking urine while I was pregnant!!
But desperate times post pregnancy required desperate measures.
Beyond the immediate results, it’s been several months, and I haven’t gained back a pound. The program instilled in me such good health (eg good foods with great recipes), eating 1800 calories a day (that’s a lot for me), is done with wonderful meals, sweets, and no starvation.
In fact, every person I know that followed the HCG program (for it’s not a diet-it’s a change in lifestyle) and reset of an actual body part), has continued to lose weight on the program.

Oh, forgot to mention one very important part. It gets to the 3rd layer of fat; the hard to lose parts above the knee, under the armpit, around the hips. It also leaves the legs smooth (rids the cellulite) and retains the muscle, since it’s full of protein.

A lot of info on the web is overblown and wrong. That’s one reason I waited to long; I wanted first-person accounts of individuals with success. Those few that failed weren’t strict about the protocol.
Now–the next question you ask, is about the money. It’s spendy. I’ve heard of clinics in Vegas charging $1200-1500 per cycle. On-line, one can buy the same thing for $50 bucks (and I have one friend who went from a size 10/12 to 4). She purchased homeopathic HCG on-line. I thought it was risky, but it worked out fine for her.
Luckily, I found a Dr here in Washington who isn’t a scalper, and it was $150 for the treatment. I then continued on, eating healthy, and am nearing in on my fighting weight–well, have about 15 more pounds, but better than it was!
Though this last one worked and the others failed, I’ve always supported a high-protein, low-carb diet. My husband went on P90X for 90 days, and lost 20 pounds. However, he kept at the eating program at a whopping 2500 calories a day and lost another 15 in three months. He’s now 185 pounds. It’s been amazing. It’s also been hard work and strict, healthy eating.

That’s the way it should be.

Preventing cancer

It was nearly four pm on a Wednesday afternoon when the doctor found ‘ripples’ along the inner side of my armpits. I was in for a regular checkup and told him of the pain I’d been feeling on both sides of my breasts.

“I’ve been doing a lot of lat presses,” I said, convinced I’d torn a muscle.

He felt on both sides, commenting I was skinny for my height which was bad. That day however, it was good, he went on say, because he could feel a lot of ‘nubs’ that he suspected were inflamed glands. His faced registered no emotion as he felt the inner part of my hips. “Checking more glands,” he said. “See this? They are raised.”

It meant nothing to me. I was thirty-two. In the best shape of my life. In fact, my world was perfect. A great career, a good marriage. We’d recently adopted a dog, a sure sign life had transitioned in to a grounded world of normalicy.

“I’d like you to see a specialist since I’m not sure about these nubs.” Whatever. Sure. I didn’t even look at the card he gave me and went on my way.

A week later, the pain was a bit more intense, and Rog suggested I follow the doctors orders. I looked at the card.

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center. It should have scared me, but it didn’t. I’d never known anyone with breast cancer, let alone had it myself. Beside, breast cancer is here, there and everywhere. I couldn’t go into the grocery story, the mini-mart or turn on the TV without seeing pink ribbons and being asked for a donation.

I made an appointment with the doctor listed on the card, and didn’t notice the receptionist moved up the date when she learned it was a doctor referral.

Two days later, I was lying on my back, a woman’s warm hands gently probing the lymph nodes under my arms and near my hip line. As she pressed her fingers on my skin, she began asking me questions.

“How much do you smoke?”

“I don’t. Never have.”

Her eyes met mine.

“Never?” as though I were lying.

Well, yes, once. I told her about the time I was eight, and my cousin was spending the summer with us. “I got in to her backpack, hid under the pool table where no one would find me, lit a cigarette and tried one inhale,” I said, a wash of twenty-two year old guilt flooding over me. I’d never told anyone. (sorry mom!)

“What about drinking?”

That I had done, I confessed, but not much. I never have liked the taste of wine or beer, the smell of latter reminding me of bottled farts (though I left out that little tidbit).

“Are you a coffee drinker?”

“Smells great but tastes like mud.” That, at least, got her laughing.

“You shouldn’t be allowed in the state of Washington.”

She ordered up x-rays, and while we waited, she asked me about our family history, specifically, relatives with breast cancer, or any type of cancer.

“Not one. No cancer of any kind.”

We were tall, blond, Swedes blessed with a long shelf life. Not a single heart attack, cancer, or other disease my mom or dad could recall. In fact, the only problem seemed to be a tremendous capacity to eat butter, pure, unadulterated heavy cream and potatoes in quantities our Russian friends envied.

When the x-rays returned, she put them up on the screen for review. She gestured for me to get dressed, then we both sat down again.

“The predominant demographic for breast cancer are forty year old black women who smoke four packs a day,” she said, facts removing the necessity for diplomacy. “You have every symptom of that demographic.”

She didn’t give me time to react. She began educating me on my situation.

“Your breasts are like a steak rippled with fat,” she said, pointing to the x-ray. “These white dots–they are cancer waiting to turn, for lack of a better word.”

My breasts ceased to be sexual objects at that moment. They were balls infested with white balloons with strings attached.

“They are ticking time bombs. At any moment, one, or all of them, can become malignant.” She ordered up tests and continued.

“Alcohol and caffeine stimulate cancer cells,” she said, as though this was common knowledge. Since I didn’t smoke, she looked first to those two items as the culprit. I told her I adored chocolate. Was that enough to cause cancer, I asked.

She shook her head no. “You’d have to eat vats and vats,” she said.

As we waited for the test results, we talked about other “possible” contributing factors. The environment, pesticides, man-made food (margarine) fats–the list was endless. As the short appointment stretched into hours, my anger grew. Why hadn’t the public been told about the connection between alcohol and caffeine and cancer I asked.

She shrugged. “Those industries are huge supporters of the healthcare industry.”

The only way to be sure would be to have a double mastectomy, she told me, recommending I go home, talk with my husband and we make a decision by the end of the week.

This is where my Swedish, don’t-cry attitude served me well. When Rog came through the door, I told him straight up what I’d learned. He blinked a few times, then we both agreed we’d do what we had to do to live. Period.

When I called mom, she told me to call our swami (aka, our homeopath). He listened to my description of the situation, and though no cancer specialist he, told me to immediately change my way of life.

“It’s easy,” he said, in his middle-eastern drawl. “You are a carcinosen.” (For the homeopathy-ignorant, this is a type of personality). “You hold everything in. You never cry. You work seven days a week, twenty hours a day and have done so since you were eighteen. Of course this was going to happen.” He went on to tell me that it’s a part of my DNA, this whole cancer is inevitable for a person like me.

I wasn’t sure what pissed me off more– hearing I had ticking time bombs in my chest or my freaking swami being so matter-of-fact about it.

“You knew this was going to happen?” I nearly yelled.

“Let’s just say, I am not surprised.” Even the way hef slowly enunciated each word infuriated me.

All I wanted to know was if it could be fixed by some miraculous means.

“Yes. But you have to do what I say starting right now.”

He then told me I had to start taking a remedy, called Carsinosen, every day without fail. He told me it’s normal for people with repressed feelings (check), those who were quiet and sensitive as a child (check), who loved butter and chocolate (check) who were sexually aggressive (um, doublecheck) and so on. He gave me some links to look it up online, and said he’d ship me out a batch the next day.

“You must quit all sugar and chocolate, go completely organic, get rid of every toxic item in your home, and eat greens at least three times a day. Preferably more.” (did I mention I hate greens?)

“But one thing you must do,” he intoned, like Moses coming down from the mountain, “you must, and I mean must, change your lifestyle.”

What? As if his laundry list wasn’t going to accomplish that?

“Reduce your work. Change your career. Change your lifestyle. Get your feelings out. Cry more. Be more sensitive to others. Be compassionate. Don’t hold back doing things you want to do.”

Oh, got it. He wanted me to change my personality. No prob. An easy thing to ask of a controlling, non-emotional Type-A.

“Read up on chemical toxins in your house,” he advise, the parting bit of advice before he went on to his next patient. “Get rid of anything toxic.”

I didn’t waste time directing my anger at him. Rog and I read all about the top-ten toxic chemicals. We had every single item on the list, and sometimes, multiple items. We then looked at the top ten toxic ingredients. The worst and most common offender seemed to be Sodium Lauryl Sulfates. Depending on the list we looked at, it was number one or three. This is a commonly found chemical shown to cause severe changes to the skin, though studies linking them to cancer are still debatable (see link). It was (and is in) everything—toothpastes, shampoos, facial cleansers, body wash, exfoliant, moisturizers, you name it.

I was horrified when it appeared on every (EVERY) single beauty product I owned.

Gone. The entire lot.

As Rog and I literally cleaned house, and invested a fortune in natural products, we read cases where men and women with cancer (early-mid stage) arrested their cancer. This didn’t mean it went away, it just stopped progressing. In each case, a complete life-style change had occurred, and this included dietary habits.

Rog and I went organic, but we also went largely ‘green,’ as in, eating lots and lots of green vegetables. It was hard. I hate salads, kale, broccoli. But life is choices, and my choice was to live, with both breasts. It wasn’t debatable. It was obvious.

At the end of the week, I told my doctor I wanted to wait a month, and see if my actions were going to help ‘arrest’ the pre-cancerous blobs. She shook her head.

“In nearly twenty years, I’ve never seen a case this far a long be arrested,” she said sympathetically, but sternly. She wished me well and told me she’d see me the following week. The second week, the same thing. The sizes had increased.

The third week, she was shocked. No increase. Fourth week, no increase. And so on, every week for three months.

“I can’t believe it,” she said. She’d brought in other doctors to review the results, and I was asked to explain what I’d done to affect this result.

They nodded to one another in silence, as though my comments confirmed their own opinions.

“Most people won’t give up what they love,” said a male physician. “They’d rather die.”

Rather lose a breast or die than give up coffee, or smoking or drinking? Rather risk losing a loved one than replace a few hundred bucks worth of cleaning supplies in the home or passing by the fast food joint on the way home?

“Patients don’t always listen to advice,” he said. “Few want any at all.”

That sounded like a typical type A to me. Seattle is full of ’em. The world is full of –us.

Since that time, ten years ago, I’ve remained in an “arrested” state. The checkups went quarterly, then yearly. At last check, the time bombs were still within,  and can tick at any time. The journey, and it’s impact on our lives was interesting upon reflection, though unfun (is that a word?) at the time.

It wasn’t easy in the beginning; we lost most of our friends with whom we’d go out to dinner or travel on vacation. Rog stopped drinking, his show of solidarity akin to men shaving their heads when their cancer-ridden wife goes through chemo and loses her hair. Our then-set of friends were uncomfortable drinking with, or in front of us. That pretty much wiped out everyone in our social set.

With the loss of our circle of friends was an emptiness. It wasn’t as strong as a death, but we grieved over the years of invested relationships, the people we loved, and those who we believed loved us back. Suddenly, we were in our cancer-induced island of isolation.

Those who didn’t entirely desert us were hopelessly affected, behaving as though I were going to explode if I went inside their home and got whiff of some Windex. Back then, breast cancer, and discussing the subject, wasn’t done as much as it is now. It was said in hushed voices, Rog’s friends asked if they could hug me without hurting me (actually, for a while, my chest did hurt all the time, but this gradually faded). I felt guilty for Rog losing some of his friendships as well, many that went the way of the sand because he’d no longer go out w/his drinking buddies.

We had a few long years relative quiet and loneliness. My swami remained optimistic and unworried.

“You go through phases,” he said, telling me it happened with his own wife. “The friends you had in your twenties and thirties reflected your hard-charging, party lifestyle. You now have different priorities and values. It will take time to find couples who share your values. When you do, they will be friends for life.”

Sure enough, it was about four years until  Rog and I started ‘couple-dating,’ eg, finding new friends and building relationships. This has expanded with other changes–children and community involvement. During that time, more studies have appeared in Newsweek and other magazines, linking various foods/drinks/environmental toxins to cancer. I’ve heard friends remark “everything seems to cause cancer,” as though it simply doesn’t matter anymore (we’re all going to die, so live it up).

It’s been hard keeping my mouth shut as I watch people injest what are basically toxic items into their body, as clueless as I was about the potential result. I don’t thrust my opinions on others, or until this blog posting, share my story with friends or acquaintances. The reason is akin to the doctors’ comment–most people don’t want to hear it. When I’m asked about my healthy habits or skin–I’ll explain that Jennifer Lopez noted drinking reduces collagen in the skin– and it’s better for you. I refrain from launching in to a diatribe about the evils. People can read and make their choices. I’m no more going to judge or try to change a person’s life than I would want another’s unsolicited opinion about my own.

Today, I’m downright lazy compared to my pre-cancerous life. I only work late hours, not vampire hours (into the wee-morning), though I still hear rumblings of complaints from certain family members I’m doing too much. Rog and I have even eat red meat and non-organic stuff, and in times of true desperation, will stop at a drive-through. I do have chocolate-within reason, and truly pay for it when I then have to get back on-the-wagon. Those are the exceptions though, and not the rule.

Can cancer be prevented? I’m not sure. But it can be arrested, for I’m living proof. I’ll keep doing what I’m doing, for as long as I can, to live as long as I can.

Good weekends and Air Kissing

Up at the crack of my babies’ first cry, the first thing I did was turn on the news, just as the announcer proclaims that despite the weather, there are “no bad weekends!”
I beg to differ. Weekends mean several things: Getting together for food. Social activities. Sports. Air kissing.
Kissing matters.com
Yes, air kissing. This social habit that came overseas from our civilized European counterparts. Note I said European, not Swedes. In addition the fact that us Swedes Don’t Cry, we don’t air kiss.
It’s all about the invasion of my personal space, the familiarity of someone kissing me that I barely know, or don’t know, or have just been introduced to that bugs me out. My reserved, puritan ancestors knew that our one-space is an invisible line, only broken by a short, thrust of a hand. It’s worked for a thousand years and it still works for me.
Yet time and traditions were passing me by, for as I remained a mole at my own house, having kids, writing, and being less than social, this phenomena had taken hold, like contractable disease jumping from one person to another with each hen-peck. Little did I know that signing off my emails with an xoxoxo to my relatives didn’t count.
The moment of truth came when I got on a plane to Los Angeles and entered the world of air kissing. It was as though the handshake had given way to air-kissing ‘bro’-ness otherworld. A director meets me for the first time, leans in to me, arm touching the center of back and plants one on my check. 

It was odd. I’m unprepared. Do I kiss back? Do I turn my head? Do I touch his back? He was tall and good-looking, and I briefly wondered if I was stepping over the line of marital infidelity if I enjoyed the act.
I instinctively pulled back, catching the glance of the one man I knew, who clearly enjoyed my discomfort. The evil man then proceeded to introduce me to the others in the room, knowing exactly what was coming.
Several other men and their lips came careening towards me. My inner Swede rebelled. This wasn’t a family gathering, a wedding or a funeral. It was a business meeting. We didn’t know one another, and with the exception of one person I’d worked with, wasn’t even sure if I was going to like these cheek-invaders by the end of the day. Didn’t they know my cheek was reserved for a scant handful or special individuals??
It got me thinking-what if everyone in the high tech world started planting kisses as a way to start a meeting. Can you imagine? Hi, my name’s Steve Balmer, smooch my cheek. The Googlie’s and Microsoftie’s might get more softie if each gathering started with smoochies. It could devolve into a group hug-fest.
I had visions of air kissing spreading across industries, job sectors and vocations like the ebola virus running amuck. This begat a business opportunity, (for us Swedes are opportunistic along with prudish).
Cheek wipes. The packaging could be blue and red. Skulls and crossbones. Breastcancer pink and Lance Armstrong yellow. Living free implies absence of disease, and I’m all about no lip-yick from strangers.
And another thing, it’s always the ‘right’ cheek. Who established this as the protocol? By the end of the first day in LA, the first epidural layer of my right cheek had been kissed off.
I took note around me. The restaurants were full of individuals greeting one another, cheek to cheek, lips sort-of touching sideways, full of the strange, TV-love that doesn’t mean much. Heck. If I’m going to kiss someone, I want them to feel it.
This inspired another thought. Kiss devaluation. It’s like the dollar against the Yuan, it’s been so overused and slighted, the value has plummeted, causing an emotional deficit. My ah-ah moment came when I then connected the dots from kiss devaluation to the overall moral decline in society. With the kiss worth nothing, one must naturally move to the next step that’s meaningful. For lack of a better analogy, first base…second base…. It was like seventh grade all over again (well, for Roger sixth grade, but who’s keeping score?)
On my last day in Los Angeles, I made it by releasing my inner Swede. I took control. I put my foot down and erected my protectionist barriers. When a tall, hedge fund manager with a diamond-encrusted watch the size of a pancake on his wrist made his forward-leaning play, I stepped back, thrust out my hand and said,
“Nice to meet you,” before turning and sitting down. It was rude, I know. But he had two things going against him—potential blood diamonds and association with the phrase hedge fund. Using similar tactics, I made it through two more sets of interactions. I thought I was in the clear when I got up to leave for my flight. Four men were sitting at the table, and in a unifying show of politeness, they all stood.
“Oh, no,” I protested, waving for them to sit. “Don’t get up for me. It’s not like we’re on a date!”
The aforementioned friend nearly choked on his tongue with laughter. It just came out, and before I could cover my faux-pa with a nicer commentary, the first one came in for the goodbye hug, saying he “wasn’t going to let me getaway with that.” As I’d grown to like this particular guy in a platonic-business-type-of-way, I was OK with the air kissing that time, though I still slightly turned my head.
Didn’t matter. The domino affect had occurred and the others came rustling in like the receiving line at a wake.
On the plane ride home, I realized the horror of my middle-aged, motherhoodly existence. My right shoulder is the one I carry my 9-month on. The same shoulder she eats on. Pukes on. The same one her grubby little hands use as a riding handle while she shoves my hair in her mouth. I wondered if my shampoo and conditioner were enough to mask the scent of all things baby, or if this was part of the attraction. I made a mental note to wash an extra time or two before taking my next trip.
Once back in the safe cocoon that is my hood, I’m comforted that air kissing is likely limited to the transplants from the east coast, LA or Europe.  As I commence the rest of my Friday, I tell myself this Swede is going to be happy, despite the folks who are going to want to kiss me first and remove their shoes second, breaking all my personal barriers in the process. And as Rog says, I’ll be happy for it, because, as the weatherman says, there are no bad weekends.

Best appetizer: Best crab cakes

With the holiday season fast approaching, I’m getting hit up for some great app recipes. The following recipe for crab cakes is a sure fire winner for any occasion or holiday in any season.

What makes this recipe so good you might ask? A large portion of the decade I spent in San Francisco was at Fog City Diner. The diner was located within walking distance of my first office, and was a key decision making factor when I searched for a bigger office space. Every lunch for six years was spent at the diner, and my ever-expanding waistline bore testament to my addiction. When Rog and I started dating, he predicted I was on the fast-track to a heart attack. I either needed to start running along the Embarcadero or “cut back on the crab cakes.”

I started running along the Embarcadero.

The key to great crab cakes is having a high proportion of crab, as well as enhancing the flavors of the other ingredients. The way to do this is by sautéing the onion, garlic, celery and peppers in a metal-bottomed pan. This blends and folds the flavors in a way that is not accomplished by adding the ingredients together cold.
This particular recipe is a Sarah special. In other words, it’s a blend of a southern, creole recipe, a northwestern recipe and my additional ingredients I’ve incorporated over the years as I’ve served (and listened) to guest response. It’s always the first appetizer to go. I hope you love it as much as I do. (PS-I’ll post a pic after I make them again this wknd)

Crab cakes

1 lb fresh lump crabmeat (costco has a pre-packaged/fresh that is a great buy at $13/lb)
½ cup butter, some oil (depending on preference)
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
1/2 cup finely chopped red pepper
1/2 cup finely chopped orange and yellow each
1 chopped sweet onion
¼ cup minced sweet red onion
½ jalapeno chile, seeded and minced
1 tbs lemon juice
2 tsp minced garlic
1 cup chopped celery (inner stocks)
2 tsp fresh chopped tarragon
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
½ tsp cayenne
½ tsp Hungarian paprika
Bit of cayenne pepper
Bit of tobasco sauce
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup seasoned breadcrumbs (I prefer parmesan or garlic)
1 1/3 cup mayonnaise
Preparation
1.     Heat butter and oil in a large skillet.
2.     Slice both red and sweet onion finely. Sautee a few minutes.
3.     Slice the peppers and chile and add to the sautee. 3-5 minutes depending on heat.
4.     Near the end, add the garlic.
5.     Remove from heat and let cool.
6.     Add the crab and all other ingredients except egg, mayonnaise and bread crumbs.
7.     Lightly beat the eggs and mayonnaise. Add to the mixture
8.     Add the seasoned bread crumbs to the point where the mixture holds together but is not dry.
9.     Note-if the mixture is runny and you are out of bread crumbs, press the moisture out of the mixture, either through a strainer. If it’s still runny, chop more bread crumbs to reduce the moisture. If the mixture if runny when cooked, the cakes won’t stay together, and will fall apart.
10. Using a small round tablespoon scooper, cantelope scooper or such item, scoop, round and place in the hot skillet.
11. Note: To ensure a nice, even crab crake, use a fork (or other object) to slighty flatten the crab cake. If I am in a rush, I use a bacon press. This ensures the cakes are even and cook very fast.
Sherry-Cayenne topping:
1 cup mayannaise
1 teaspoon cayenne
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
Preparation
1.     Mix all three items together
2.     Place a dollop on each crab cake

Tofurkeys and other strange turkey alternatives

We recently accepted a dinner invitation to have Thanksgiving dinner with some friends and dine on a fabulous, man-made concoction, a “Tofurkey.” As my mom reads this, I imagine her first looking up and asking my father “what’s a Tuforkey,” as though it’s a new swear word.

Mom. Not so. We are talking about an actual turkey, made of tofu and molded in to the shape of a Turkey. And because you don’t know what tofu is all about, it’s a non-meat based substance that you wouldn’t deign to taste. If you did, you’d swirl it around in your mouth, then spit on the floor. We have been informed the entire tofurkey with all the trimmings are available at Whole Foods.

Rog and I are pretty excited. After all, how often do I get to experience anything new at 42? And since we’re going to deflower our tofurkey selves, we’re going all in. This means having the vegetarian  stuffing, or whatever vegetarians substitute for stuffing, since it can’t have innerds in it, potatoes (sans butter or cream) and some type of vegetarian pumpkin pie. I did propose a desert or two, just in case the experiment goes bad, like Jeff Goldblume in The Fly. That idea got shot down hard and fast. As Roger later remarked, “you gonna gamble with your life, do it all the way.”

It got me thinking about other Thanksgiving dinners where we felt on the edge. During one Thanksgiving meal at another friends home, we ate some type of other white meat, but it was unidentifiable. It was complimented with cherry rice stuffing and walnuts (odd), roasted bell peppers and blueberry cobbler. Even immigrants to this country know it was pumpkins, not blueberrys. We said nary a word, ate as much as decorum dictated, then hit the McDonald’s drive-thru on the way home. The friendship was short-lived.

Tofurky, non-molded kind

The year after, we figured we’d play it safe, and invited friends over. The couple were Australian, and came on the condition they cook in our kitchen. No problem. We knew them both to be carnivores. To whit, she spent three hours turning over little hens that turned out beautifully. The other food was an odd jumble of items I didn’t eat and don’t recall. This was because I was so famished after four hours I’d snuck Ritz crackers from the pantry to avoid starvation. 

This year, our next door neighbors are going to have venison, but this is a part of deer if I’m not mistaken. Sounds gamey, anti-bambi and wild in a barbaric, I-have-to-go-kill-something type of a way. Then there is the fish alternative, Salmon being an obvious. Can’t think Washington without conjuring up a salmon. Having arrived on the other side of “Salmon Days” festival this last weekend, it’s time to give the slippery critters a break so they can mate and die as God intended.

If we go strictly vegan, we could get a  roast, made of butternut squash, apples and mushrooms, a vegan turkey breast from Whole Foods, and then other strange things I’m not even going to mention.

For the pie recipe, I found this one from Nava Atlas. It sounds pretty strange, and haven’t made it myself, but as long as you (MOM) are reading, I figured I’d get crazy and put it in. You’ve tried fifteen different bread pudding recipes lately, so you might as well try a new pumpkin one!



2 cups well-baked and mashed butternut squash or sugar pumpkin (see Notes)
3/4 cup silken tofu (about half of a 12.3-ounce aseptic package)
1/2 cup natural granulated sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice (or 1/4 tsp. each ground nutmeg & ginger)
9-inch good quality graham cracker or whole grain pie crustPreheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Combine the pumpkin or squash pulp in a food processor with the remaining ingredients (except crust). Process until velvety smooth.
Pour the mixture into the crust.
Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the mixture is set and the crust is golden.
Let the pie cool to room temperature.
Cut into 6 or 8 wedges to serve.

NOTES: To bake butternut squash or sugar pumpkin, halve the squash or pumpkin (you need a really good knife to do so!) and scoop out the seeds and fibers. Place the the halves cut side up in a foil-lined, shallow baking dish and cover tightly with more foil. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until easily pierced with a knife. When cool enough to handle, scoop out the pulp and discard the skin. Use any leftover squash or pumpkin pulp for another purpose.If you want to make this in a hurry, you can use a 16-ounce can of pureed pumpkin.

In the meantime, I’m going to get all ready for my first tofurkey, and let you know how it goes.

Bromancing the stone

A month ago, I was sitting in the living room, computer on my lap, typing away, when I hear Rog call out from the office.
“Bro! What are we having for dinner tonight?”
I continue typing. Didn’t even look up. He was on the phone I figured, making plans with a friend for dinner.
“Frost! I’m talking to you!” (Gitano/Blade)…(FYI, one of Rog’s pet names for me is Frost-aka. The Devil. Isn’t that sweet?)
I look up.
“My name is not Bro,” I remind him.
“You’re a bro,” he says, shrugging his shoulders.
Rog has continued calling me Bro. Forget honey, sweetheart, or even the shout out  of a “yo babe!” That at least qualifies me as a girl of some sort. But no. it’s Bro.
And hence became the nightmare that is my new name. Since then, I’ve noticed Bro is now not just a name, it’s a title. In fact, it’s a category of person in and of itself, defining a special status that bonds the receiver and the namer in some sort of ‘bro-ness’ that heretofore, has not been properly catalogued.
To be clear, I am NOT a bro. I lack the equipment. I lack the hair. In the 70’s, wasn’t a ‘bro’ a black man? Now, we have all the ghetto-smurff whities liked my husband trying to be cool, bro-in it up as if Maple Valley is the ‘hood. (just writing that felt wrong).
Our fighter-pilot friend Kevin texts Rog in rapid-fire shots, the same way he flies his F-16. The thumb-finger romance comes and gos, in fits and starts, like an on-again, off-again flirtation.
Kevin’s wife Lori will notice and text me, saying the “bromance” has started up again. We laugh. We shake our heads. Us girls text this day in out, 24X7 and men don’t think a thing of it. But when men text, it’s a bromance.
Above and beyond my gender-bending title and Rog bromancing his stone, the whole-bro thing has gone maintream. Late last night I was perusing a friend’s FaceBook page, trolling through an endless stream of birthday well-wishes. It went like this:
“Congrats, bro.”
“Thanks, bro.”
“Bro, Happy firtday.”
“Back atcha bro.”
On and on and on. Sometimes it was peppered with inputs from a girl.
“You made it to the big one, bro,” wrote she. Now, even girls are calling men bros. Is that normal, or is my head so far in these misty, dark grey clouds I haven’t noticed this is names aren’t used anymore, and I’m the dated one here?
Once upon a time, bros was an abbreviation for brothers. As in, a literal brother. Then we had the bro, which inferred a tight relationship akin to a brother, no doubt ushered in, and made popular by the seventies and African Americans, who made the phrase sound cool. “You’re my bro,” was a compliment. 
It was also cool in the same way us girls talk about being chicks, my sista or homegirls (as much as 40+ yr old woman can say that without laughing), but if a man calls me a chick, I don’t really dig on it. But when my own husband calls me a Bro, I start to have an identity complex. I’m not black, nor do I stand a chance of becoming black in this lifetime.
Now, I’ve got my husband yapping about his “homies,” his “bros.” It’s embarrassing. Then he goes on to tell I’m both. Um. I’m neither. We live in the same home, but I’m his white wife, lacking in both relation and the right color.
I suggest we lighten up a bit on the informality of it all. Go back to calling someone by their given, legal name.
“Thanks for the birthday wishes, Mark,” or “Mark, thx for the birthday shout out.” Either work. I could even stand my husband to throw in a “Honey, what are we having for dinner,” or “Sarah, want to go out to dinner?” In the meantime, he’ll be making his own dinner, cuz I ain’t lifting ghetto-smurff homey bod off the couch for no one until I get called by the right name.  

What readers want

In the two weeks since this blog has been live, I’ve become addicted to looking at reader statistics. How many readers, from what country, when and how many pages views etc. As a consumer of mass information myself, I’ve often questioned why a blog/ezine will post a pluthera of pieces of one subject, and ignore others. Through this blog, I’m beginning to see….readers have clear and distinct preferences.

First–the stats…
The first day, the site had about 40 visitors. Day two, nearly 80, and day three, about 140 or so. Weekends and Sat’s in particular are slow, and it took 10 days for the site to have 500. Day 19, the site passed 1100. The # of visitors on the home page counter doesn’t reflect how many pages a person looks at, which is averaging 3 pages (or blogs) per visit. Also, I got the counter up about four days after the site went live, so it’s off a little bit.  I have no idea if this is a good trajectory or not, and it doesn’t matter so much. The money is meager ($<50). AdSense has contributed a whopping .87 cents to my bottom line. Wahuu.  Good thing the near term goal is to provide an outlet for content that will be read.

Top read pieces…

Like the Forbes 500 list, this is the Sassality top list. And what you are reading include beauty tips, in particular, the perfect eyebrow secret which holds the top slot since the day it appeared. This is top by a factor of 2:1. Who knew? The piece about grandfather dying in Swedes Don’t Cry was number two for a week, until I wrote the piece on Hope and Love in a marriage. Apparently, people need marital tips more than learning about why us Swedes hold our feelings in and live to be 100.  The one other piece on I wrote on Marital Victory, vascilates between number two or three. The piece about me losing everything, twice is holding strong at #4. It’s great fodder for feeling better about oneself.

Health…weight loss…

It’s become apparent why every fifth segment on Dr. Oz seems to be about weight loss, why Oprah has rerun after rerun on beauty tips, and Dr. Phil has made gazillions of dollars hosting shows on marital issues.

The pieces on slimmer thighs, great abs and good skin are all in the top ten, though the rank seems to fluctuate with the weather. If I was really anal about it, I’d create a spreadsheet mapping the day of the week, time of day and general economic environment with the subject, write a piece and submit it to some journal. As it is, I’ll settle for licking my thumb and holding it outside the car window as I drive 60 mph.

Do-it-Yourself items like the garage are well viewed, but definitely middle-of-the-pack (out of 42 postings thus far, in the twenties), while the humorous shorts on Pickem’ up trucks and speaking in movie language go up on Wednesdays and Friday’s around 12 pm EST and 3 pm EST and 12 PST. This is statistically consistent with Internet data from the last five years, identifying users (workers at home or the office) troll the Internet on hump day when it’s slow during lunch and 3 pm for the east coast. The pattern repeats for the west coast as well.

The summary…

Overall, the data tells me people are having marital issues, or are looking for ways to improve relationships, but want to look good in the process. Marriage provides good fodder. Twelve years of living with someone, raising a family, dealing with family issues, are rich soil to harvest stories.

At the same time, it’s important to maintain outward appearances when times are really bad (e.g. wear more make-up when I’m falling apart internally). Consider my brother’s ability to tell when I’ve just been dumped, or getting ready to dump a boyfriend; I’d always drop five or ten pounds. Conversely, when my relationship was trolling along at warp speed, I was happy and plump. Little surprise that now the entire family worries when I lose weight. I’m sure Oprah’s weight loss and gain and back again have dramatically contributed to her billion dollar bank account, for who can avoid the pics at the checkout line, comparing each pound to a vat of butter? That said, I have no interest having this blog becoming a weightloss diary…hence, my resistence to actually going there and divulging every last gimmick I’ve tried on the subject…but never say never. I might bow to the Gods of weight loss in the end.

Oddities, like shoe protocol and stinky feet are humorous, inspire comments, and items relating to males in particular, ensure I receive emails directly from men. That’s been unexpected and cool. I had no idea how many men see themselves in Rog’s life, issues or no, and they they are actually reading up on how to improve themselves. Talk about inspirational. It gives me hope for “man” kind in general–I guess Dr. Phil is doing his job.

What can you expect then?

Lots of coverage on marriage stuff, as long as it’s relevant and up, not a depressing b—ch-fest. Don’t like those articles. Never have. We love saving a nickle here and there, so DIY (do-it-yourself) will be on-going, as will beauty and health. Clearly, the same old topics are regurgitated again and again (can’t count the number times I’ve read the same piece on thighs but I do “one more time” thinking I’ll learn the final tidbit that will evaporate an inch off my legs).

During the next three months, I’ll mix it up with entertainment, food and holiday stuff, since that’s what Oct-Dec is all about. This will no doubt give way to self-hateration, losing weight, clearing up the complexion and overall motivation after guteral, financial and emotional splurging that takes place before the end of the year.
The entire publishing, television editorial cycle has become clear in this little consumer microcosm called this blog. I’m equally educated and depressed I’ve fallen into the mass media marketing of life. Then again, that sounds like a blog subject!

Mystery Shoppers and other seasonal job opportunities

This morning I received a request to be a Mystery Shopper for the holiday season. Mystery shopping, in case you haven’t heard of it, it’s the job of getting paid to spend money and rate the experience. It can be fun, easy and good source of fast money. On a lark, I did this for a company in San Francisco at the same time I was running my company. It was fantastic going in to Sak’s and checking out the service wearing different clothes. I was ignored when I looked like a slob and treated well when I combed my hair. No surprise, but not good for retail sales.

The job title is Mystery Shopper, the pay is $150 per assignment, and the task includes getting cash upfront, spending it on a set number of items, and rating the experience. How fast can you say “make a $150 bucks?”

This morning, I checked out Mystery Shoppers of America and saw openings for Bothell, Washington, though this section is customized by the IP address of website visitors. Large clients include everyone from Target to McDonalds to big electronic and fashion retail stores. A litany of these folks exist, and the F500 clients pay huge amounts of money on market research. It’s how they learn what the customer sees, experiences and responds to products, promotions or even the layout of the store.

For whatever reason, mystery shopping has it’s share of scammers, so it’s best to target an org that’s a part of the national professional organization.

Other seasonal jobs up for grabs can be found at Snagajob. This firm expects to hire 35,000 people this winter.  As the holiday season fast approaches, retail stores aren’t the only ones ramping up. Customer service is a huge area that booms for five months–in the three months leading up to Christmas and the two months following. January and February are big for returns, and this means phone banks are overwhelmed. Having slaved at a phone bank in college, I can attest that anyone who can pick up a phone can handle customer service. That means my five year old can do this job. Pay scale? Between $13-55 per hour depending on skills.

Restaurant, management and transportation are also sectors with high demand, as consumers want to go to eat and need a means to get to their destination. Note–love the tagline “smile till your face hurts.” It may be akin to a permanent enema, but it pays green instead of gives it. Think about that while you apply.

This is also the time to think about spring and summer jobs. Those applications get filled out six months in advance. Get a jump by checking out the opps at Coolworks. Granted, one has to be a bit more mobile to run off to work in a foreign country, but a lot of these have in-state or out of state jobs that can fit a flexible lifestyle. It also has winter job postings right now.

I’ve been amazed at how many jobs are geared just to teens. Having gone through the teenage-boy-needs-a-job phase with my own son, this site is fantastic to see what’s out there and get right to it. Now an enterprising geek from Harvard needs to come up with variations for forty-something-stay-at-home-mom jobs.

The St. Petersburg Times and BusinessWire both offer tips for navigating the seasonal job market. This includes starting NOW, and focusing on the bright spots in the retail market–what companies are doing well while staying away from the stores suffering from recession. According to BusinessWire, skills and training are helpful, but not required.

Three in 10 hiring managers say that a positive attitude is the most important attribute a prospective seasonal hire can possess.” Smile, smile, smile.


Three other areas include Package handling. UPS will hire 50,000 seasonal package handlers and driver’s helpers. Pay starts at $8.50 per hour, fast-paced and physically demanding roles, but if the arms and legs work, why not give it a shot? Sure, you’ll be tired, but will be able to buy presents this year.
Toys R Us will hire 35,000 seasonal employees nationwide, same as the last two years. Other mall-oriented stores are sure to be posting help-wanted signs right about now.

Candy Cane
Security firms such as Allied Barton beef up their ranks with seasonal hires to safeguard the big crowds in stores. If you’re burley and imposing, this can be a great way to scare up some money.

Hostess tips

When I started planning parties, about ten years ago, my first task was to crack open books on entertaining or grab Martha Stewart mags to read up. After giving a few, I realized the information I read was heavy on good recipes but light on tips for the hostess. A search last night yielded few changes in available info. Most of what I learned, and now do, prior to a party, is common sense stuff. 

Ask about food allergies. Very important. Being sensitive to vegetarians or non-drinkers is a must. Sometimes, knowing can be a life or death situation. At the first Christmas party we threw in 2004, one guest came up to me, hand to his throat.
“Did you have fish in anything?” he asked. Of course! I pointed that his plate had salmon-mousse stuffed mushrooms. His veins threatened to pop out of his neck. He was allergic to salmon and his breathing was being cut off. Little did I know he was the son of a Seattle billionaire, and his sudden death on my new carpet might cause a stir. 
He asked for Benedril. We had none. He couldn’t drive, he was gasping. It would have taken longer for a medic to get to the house than Rog to take him to the local pharmacy, which he did. Death was averted. It was a lesson I only needed to learn once.
Food preferences. This goes hand in hand with asking about food allergies. I’ve learned that a mix of vegetarian and non-vegetarian food should be standard for large groups. Food can be tailored for small groups. Also, the drinkers versus non-drinkers can be accommodated with lots of water, juices and spritzes, even coffee. The drinkers definitely have preferences. Hockey players want beer, even in formal settings. For holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years), champagne and wine seem to be the big winners.
Identify the dress code. Even in the northwest, where anything goes, women (and some men) want to know the preference of the hostess. Do all your guests a favor and identify your preference. If you truly don’t have one, then leave it open. When you have a theme, be subtle but leave no doubt of your desire. For instance, I like to state “what the hostess will be wearing.” As in….
Evening Christmas party featuring live jazz, gourmet appetizers and desserts. Your hostess will be wearing a vintage cocktail dress… or

The general verbiage would be…

Ring in the new year in your favorite cocktail dress and dark suit…. Or
  
Scare the guests with your spookiest outfit at our Haunted House, hosted by Count Dracula and his vampires.
Electronic or hard copy invitations. I go back and forth on this one, depending on occasion. For bridal, baby or wedding showers, I have invitations printed. This is because the event is a special, a  once-in-a-life event for the honored guest(s). As such, the guest might want to place the invitation in their photo album, the album of the baby or whatever. I favor Tinyprints  because I can upload electronic items, do the layout on line, proof and order. For parties, I use electronic invitation services like evite or others. It’s much less formal, though the upside is the ability to get an immediate count.
One exception to this is for our Christmas party we have every few years. I’ve learned the down side with evite is that I rarely have the emails to both individuals of a couple. Invariably, the communication breaks down, and one doesn’t get the memo. I deal with this by sending a hard invitation. I’ll admit, I also love the formality of the cards.
Bathroom hand towels. Cotton/linen handtowels are beautiful to look at, but not reasonable for a guests at a party. No one wants to use a semi-wet hand towel. Unless you are stocked like a gym locker, and have stacks of clean towels, go with printed paper napkin. Most grocery store carry holiday and theme napkins. I’ll take a few, fan it out and place on the left side of the vanity sink, nearest the trashcan. To make sure guests understand the protocol, I use one, scrunch it up and put it in the trash. Then they get the picture.
Candles. This is a personal taste thing, though I advocate the use of candles if possible. Candles can be used to fill an empty fireplace, give light on a piano or deadspace, and of course, clear out the ‘air’ of a bathroom. The key is the use candles that aren’t overly strong or that conflict with the natural smell of good cooking or food. Candles that fall in the acceptable category are vanilla, some spiced—like almond, or mild-smelling holiday. The unacceptable are typically identifiable by the bright, unnatural colors, such as a loud purple of lavender. This can cause headaches if placed in a small bathroom.
Coat rack, purses, powder room and perfume. These are little but important things. Our home actually lacks a coat closet, a coat stand or sitting. It’s hard to describe, but suffice it to say, we still haven’t figured out a good solution. Thus, guests come in, wondering where to sit their stuff, wandering aimlessly about the home. At first, I’m at the front door to greet them, but after a few arrive, I’m running around, refilling drinks etc., and it gets away from me.
My solution was to purchase a ceramic plaque that stands on the entryway table. It identifies coats and purses upstairs. For example of where to put stuff, I take a coat and purse and place both in spots where they are obvious and visible. For the powder room–this means women, lotion, perfume and touch up stuff. I note on the plaque it’s upstairs. In the bathroom, I lay out things I’d want to use at someone’s home. Lip gloss, hair spray, etc. It’s a small thing, but women rave about it. Plus, with their purses nearby, they can get their own stuff if they want/have it to use.
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