Are You Thankful? Put It In Writing

Modern Manners

After my last article, in which I discussed wedding gifts, I had a reader make a comment regarding the importance of thank you notes. The post made her think about an insincere sounding text she received after sending a check to a recent graduate. She recommended I share some thoughts about the art of thank you notes.

Here are a few general rules about extending proper thanks that, despite what you may think, still matter a lot.

1.There is no excuse for failing to write a thank you note for gifts and kind gestures. Noting your appreciation not only communicates your gratitude but confirms your gift arrived. I sent a wedding gift a couple of years ago via a couple’s bridal registry on the Bed Bath & Beyond site. I never received recognition so I have no idea if the down comforter, duvet and shams I sent ever found the newlyweds’ doorstep. That leaves me in the position of wondering if they think I stiffed them yet it’s completely inappropriate for me to ask them about it.

2. In our electronic world, human communication sans devices has become almost extinct. It’s certainly OK to send quick thank you texts for small, helpful gestures. If you have the flu and a fellow parent drives your child home from school for a couple of days, a short text to express your appreciation is fine. When you actually receive a gift – wedding, birthday, anniversary, etc. – a handwritten note is absolutely necessary.

3. When you’re expecting a baby, stock up on stationary. You will likely receive shower gifts and be gifted some new baby items after you deliver. If you’re about to be first time parents, you won’t fully understand this now, but your every waking moment (and that’s a lot of moments because ony the tiniest sliver of your life will be touched by sleep) will be devoted to a very small human leech (whom you will love more than anything).

When your baby is an infant, write short but sincere thanks. Anyone with kids understands you are in the baby cave and any time the adorable freeloader sleeps you usually reserve for teeth brushing and quick showers.

As your baby becomes a toddler, pre-schooler, kindergartener it’s still acceptable to write their notes but ask them to help by writing their name or adding drawings as they are able. Once they’re reading and writing, they should be forming their own notes with your guidance as necessary. Like anything, if your kids learn this good habit early, your need to nag them later will be minimized.

4. A Few Tips:

a) Although most etiquette books will say you have a whole year to send notes after your wedding, I think this advice is outdated and utter nonsense. Three months, maximum, is a more polite time-line. After an entire year, the sentiment feels like and afterthought and won’t be nearly as appreciated. We once received a note from a couple three-plus years after their wedding that included thanks for their wedding gift, baby shower gift and new baby gift all together which was so ridiculous it was hysterical. I guess they were going for the trifecta of thank you cards but it further cememted our opinion of them: They are completely disorganized, entitled, flakes.

b) As alluded to above, Be Prepared. Illustrating why you need proper stationery before you have a baby might be obvious but regular life gets busy too so stash a box of stationary in your desk at work and your desk at home. I used to bring stationary to my kids activities like ballet and soccer practice. Clearly I’m not one of those moms who had to see every single plie or drill so using that time for personal correspondence worked for me. Don’t forget to have stamps at home, at work and in your wallet.

c) While the sentiment is more important than the stationary or ink itself, the proper way to compose something handwritten is by using a thin, black, felt tip pen (aren’t you glad I didn’t say quill and bottle of ink?). Black ballpoint is also acceptable. Personally, I like a black Le Pen which is both smooth to write with and produces a very nice line. Find your favorite and have a few on hand. In terms of actual stationary, buy the best you can afford and a style you like. If you’re on a budget, there is nothing wrong with a simple, neutral card that can be picked up at grocery and drug stores.

c) Be genuine and give your correspondence a personal touch.

Don’t Do This:

Dear Grandpa, Thank you for the check for my graduation. Love, Ryan

-or-

Dear Aunt Carolyn and Uncle Hank, Thank you for attending our wedding last month and for the great wedding gift. We love it. Best, Brittany and Logan

Do This:

Dear Grandpa, Thank you for the check you sent for my high school graduation. I’m sorry you couldn’t be with us to celebrate but I really appreciate your gift. I’m going to use it to buy a desk lamp for my dorm room next year which I will surely need for late night study sessions. Love, Ryan

-or-

Dear Aunt Carolyn and Uncle Hank, We are so thankful you could both celebrate our special day with us. It means so much that you traveled such a long way. We were so excited to receive the beautiful, sleek coffee maker. We will think of you every morning when we awake to the motivating smell of caffeine. What a generous gift. Thank you for your congratulations and thoughtfulness. Fondly, Brittany and Logan

Taking just a couple of minutes to express something in writing, even in the busy world we live in with all its distractions, will make you feel civilized and make the person on the other end of the letter smile, for sure.

 

 

 

 

Ten Traditional Things Every Wedding Registry Should Include

Homemaking, Modern Manners, Weddings

I’ve recently had the opportunity to inventory some family heirlooms that have been stored at my grandparents home for decades. Among the items I unwrapped were stems of delicate crystal my great-grandmother received for her wedding (circa 1899) which made me so happy. I have several stems at my house but one was broken a few years ago and I had no idea more existed. The discovery was a most happy surprise.

I brought those goblets home with me to live with their kin and I left several interesting pieces of crystal and china on display at their home. Although they passed away in the 1990s (when they were in their 90s), my maternal grandparents left their house to my parents and it has become a vacation home of sorts for family and friends. Finding treasures from generations past really linked me to my heritage and me think about things young couples can acquire together that will start their own home and legacy. Here’s a list of ten things that should be on everyone’s registry.

1. China

2. Crystal

3. Silver

These first three items are the Holy Trinity of wedding gifts. Times have changed and entertaining has taken a casual turn but every proper home needs china dinnerware, crystal stemware and sterling silver flatware (I had my silver pattern picked out when I was 8 years old). Not only do these items make holiday tables sparkle but they elevate everyday life.

My paternal grandmother has used her sterling and china everyday her entire life (she just turned 101) and it’s always made a simple dish of ice cream or casual lunch seem special. There is no reason to reserve your formal pieces for formal occasions. Sure a few pieces will break and need to be replaced here and there but life is short. Use the good stuff.

4. A Mixer

A good mixer is the single best thing you can acquire to start your kitchen appliance collection. Bread can be toasted in the oven, coffee can be picked up at Starbucks but a heavy-duty mixer will do a lot more than mix cake batter. It can blend fresh juice, mix the perfect mashed veggies, whip up baby food and you can add attachments over time that will master a number of cooking tasks.

5. Single Old Fashioned Glasses

Crystal or glass, a single old-fashioned glass is the best vessel to start the proper bar. Except wine or champagne, it will elegantly hold any number of drinks your guests might request from nearly any cocktail to a simple club soda or soft drink. The next glass to acquire is a double old-fashioned glass that can be used for water, iced tea, lemonade as well as taller cocktails.

6. Champagne Flutes

Champagne requires a flute so even if your crystal stemware collection doesn’t include flutes when you’re stating out, make sure you have some inexpensive flutes among your barware. You can pick up a set at IKEA for about $10.00 and keep them on hand until you invest in pieces that match your crystal stemware. Keeping glasses crystal clear by hand washing and hand drying them will make them sparkle and look more expensive.

7. Beautiful Guest Towels

Even if you’re young and still use your college towels in your own bathroom (I think I had been married at least ten years before I discarded the college bath towels that had my name printed on them – insharpie.) We started out using them in our bathroom, then as make-shift painting tarps and finally, rags. Make sure you display lovely guest towels in your guest bath and have a couple of sets of decent towels for any over-nighters.

8. A Butter Dish

A pretty butter dish is a must for a formal table, makes the kitchen table pretty and looks nice when you open the fridge too. There are lots of inexpensive varieties out there if you don’t receive a crystal or china butter dish as a wedding gift.

9. Good Salt & Pepper Shakers

For large formal dinners, my mother sets her table with individual, crystal salt and pepper at each setting. For a table up to six guests, one set in sufficient but if you are expecting more, a set at each end of the table is optimum.

10. Mixing Bowls, Measuring Spoons, Tea Towels…

Every gracious bride/groom; bride/bride; groom/groom should include inexpensive staples on a wedding registry. Not every guest is in the financial position to send a place setting or sterling serving piece.

There has been an attitude among marrying couples that expects a wedding gifts financially on par with the cost of a guest’s attendance at the wedding. This philosophy shows nothing but entitlement and a huge lack of manners. If you spend $300 per person on your festivities and hope every gift will cover that cost is absurd.

Make sure you register for inexpensive everyday things like casual placements, cookbooks, everyday coffee mugs, wooden spoons. A guest on a budget will appreciate the opportunity to purchase something you want that won’t break the bank.

Hurricane Ashley Hits Hilton Head Island

Bravo Television Commentary

Believe it or not, I spent last week in a place without Wi-Fi. It’s hard to imagine but it explains why I’m just catching-up on last Thursday’s episode of Southern Charm. The intense drama not only begs an article but dissecting the violent storm called Ashley provides enough material for an entire website – (preferably put together by a team of talented psychiatric professionals). Ashley’s erratic personality looms over the whole vacation to Hilton Head but the episode illuminates other interesting moments as well.

The thing I like most about Southern Charm is, unlike most reality shows, it features more friendship and less hatred. Maybe its structured this way because of geography. Southerners are, by nature, gracious, hospitable and there has always been a palpable chemistry among this group. The cast’s mostly friendly interactions are light and enjoyable. I appreciate that producers allow for only one villain at a time (first Kathryn, now Ashley). I would prefer less villainy and more lifestyle stuff but the general public demands outrageous behavior.  Although I love a few of the Housewives groups, I often can’t keep their layered arguments straight and end up changing the channel to a re-run of Seinfeld. 

I’m the first to admit I go all swoon-ey in the heart for Southern gentlemen and there have been moments (I cringe to reveal) I have been charmed by Thomas’ deep drawl, impeccable wardrobe (minus those white jeans) and gorgeous, historic homes. Obviously those moments are eclipsed by two sexual abuse charges brought against him, not to mention the convicted felon thing (that his loving girlfriend loves to point out), plus all the gross, creepy, misogynistic icky-ness he oozes this season. Remember his outrageous declaration at Pat’s dinner party? He says “I have all the money. I have all the power” when the conversation turns to his romantic life.

Thomas is more arrogant than a Tesla driver in Los Angeles. He has an archaic, intensely offensive philosophy regarding women he dates and is inappropriate with female friends too. In this episode he scolds Chelsea with such venom and aggressive body language she looks as if she’s been physically assaulted when he’s finished with her. I think we all have a better understanding of the power dynamic Kathryn lives with.

The episode opens with Friday night dinner on Daufuskie Island and a tirade so explosive, it feels like a night terror you can’t wake up from. I wonder if  Hurricane Ashley has realized she can’t possibly re-gain work as a Hospice nurse after all this monstrous aggression has been documented on TV. Can you imagine Ashley caring for you as you lay dying? That image makes me think I would rather be on Faulkner’s treacherous trail of darkness with the fictional Bundren family than allow Ashley near me in my final stage of life. When Ashley’s blatant and intense gold-digging proves fruitless, she’s going to need a job. Hospice is an organization dedicated to human dignity. Ashley is to Hospice what Roseanne is to ABC.

Ashley goes berserk over an un-vitation to a two-year-old’s birthday party and  screams unthinkable insults at Kathryn – ironically, in an attempt to score an invitation to said birthday party. Additionally, she needs both a history lesson and an etiquette class dedicated to utensils. Apparently, she’s never eaten crab and thinks Hilton Head Island is a mountainous destination. Oh, and can’t you just see her grubby little hands rubbing together in her mind’s eye when she wonders if Thomas owns the town named for his family. Her behavior at Saturday’s dinner can only be described as bizarre. When naturally benevolent Shep extends an opening for polite conversation Ashley’s weird, hostile attitude bewilders him. Shep is slow to anger (unless Craig’s around) so making him mad really registers. Good for Chelsea for standing her ground when Ashley tries to create another opportunity to trash Kathryn at bedtime.

The Chelsea situation is noteworthy. Chelsea is funny, warm, gorgeous and best of all, so authentic. Shep makes comments about how much he likes (like, likes) her but doesn’t seem to want to put forth any effort into dating her properly. I guess he’ll know if he’s found a potential match when he feels organically motivated to pursue a woman like a true gentleman. Austin has a slightly longer attention span for relationships but he’s not ready to commit.

Chelsea is so cool, mature and full of pure goodness. She rises above Austin’s indecisive romantic yearnings for the sake of their friendship. He dates Chelsea’s friend Victoria, breaks things off with Victoria due to unresolved feelings for Chelsea then re-establishes a relationship with Victoria. I’m going to be disappointed in him if, next episode, he immediately cozies up to Chelsea after being dumped by Victoria via phone call. It’s no surprise that relationship crumbles before it (re-) starts. Austin’s let’s get back  together speech delivered to Victoria over drinks is so lackluster and unsubstantial its shocking she takes the bait. Austin has the integrity to be honest with Chelsea about his wavering feelings which is admirable. Still, Chelsea deserves better than his teeter-totter-ing between friends.

Meanwhile Craig and Naomi continue to throw out both aggressive and passive aggressive lobs at each other. Someone needs to remind them that public snitty-ness is unbecoming. Sadly, living with each other and without each other makes them unhappy. On a career note, I do hope Craig has the courage and vision to pursue a design career. Although I find the way the Housewives use their Bravo-lebrity to shamelessly peddle their wares exhausting,  I make an exception for Shepgear, Pat’s kaftans and would love to see Craig find his professional bliss by creating a fabulous pillow line. I don’t know why everyone wants to pigeon-hole him into law when his passion is clearly design.

Whitney is a little absent this season. My husband and I both laughed out loud when Whitney stays in bed (watching Netflix?) instead of joining the group’s boating activities. He hides out in his room to escape the overt PDA Ashley lavishes on Thomas in pursuit of a big diamond, expensive luggage and a credit card. Maybe Whitney is tiring of the party-fueled life and is looking to find the right girl. Hopefully we will see him find someone special next season. Whitney, like Shep, is fundamentally decent, smart and has the makings of a good partner/husband. He just needs to find that someone who is smart, sophisticated, beautiful and understands his unique lifestyle.

I think the Southern Charm audience collectively misses Cameran but she’s been in the baby cave. I think every mother feels connected to Cameran as she edges toward the birth of her daughter. Those last days of  pregnancy are torture. Too big for my maternity clothes, I remember sitting lethargic and alone in my underwear the day before my first child arrived. Cameran handles her pregnant body with extreme grace right up until we see her, ready to burst, eating pickles and cheese puffs at her kitchen island which is actually cute given how beautiful she is.

I know I won’t be alone this week as I anxiously await Thursday’s continuation of the Charmers excursion to Hilton Head. What will I do with myself to pass the hours?

Thank you, thank you to the entire cast. You open your lives so the rest of us can have a laugh, pass a judgement and have something to talk and write about when our own lives bore us a bit. You are all good sports. Your bravery does not go unnoticed.

 

 

 

10 Reasons Pat Altschul Is The Ultimate Southern Lady

Bravo Television Commentary

BRAVO Television fans have come to know and love Whitney Sudler-Smith’s mother, the divine Pat Altschul, duing five successful seasons of Southern Charm. Mrs. Altschul oozes all things that make southern ladies a special breed. Here are ten examples of why she is a splendid example of the southern lady.

  1. She speaks her mind with confidence, resolve, and wit.
  2. She hosts the most luscious parties.
  3. She believes in the institution of marriage and is not afraid to share her views with her younger cast mates.
  4. She has raised a son who has impecable taste and manners.
  5. She’s an animal lover and activist (and her dog and cat caftans are gorgeous).
  6. She’s an eternal optimist. “Eat, Drink and Re-Marry” is one of her mantras.
  7. She remained friends with her son’s father post divoce.
  8. She shares her wisdom and advice without being aggressive or stuffy.
  9. She’s a master of etiquette and keeps traditional decorum alive.
  10. Her magnificient home is a graceful nod to the south’s past, present and future.

Thank you Miss Pat for the entertainment and education.

 

 

Shep Rose is like a child, That longs for everything it can come by…

Bravo Television Commentary

Five Insights for Shep Rose Regarding LOVE

I’ve, many times, started to report my thoughts on Shep Rose and his troubled heart. Then a rush of so many disconnected  philosophies flood my mind, the list of things to mention reads as long as Craig’s career goals last season. So, I close the computer, pour another glass of sweet tea and put it off till another day

Today, I challenge myself to make some written headway on the subject. I know, its easy to analyze someone else from afar so please don’t label me a hater. Its only with best wishes I weigh in on how Shep might deal with some issues that separate him from true love.

I really do adore Shep. He’s an imperative piece of the perfectly cast reality show, Southern Charm (Thursday night’s on BRAVO Television) that chronicles the lives of a group of colorful, entertaining Charlestonians.

Principal character Shep Rose is Charming (note the capital C) and that’s why he gets away with all kinds of mischief. He’s handsome, funny and doesn’t appear to take himself too seriously. He loafs around Charleston behaving like he’s on eternal vacation. He ambles into bars, hangs around golf courses and hunting lodges and doesn’t seem to have a care in the world. And that might be, Unless, he is truly interested in love. If he is, he has to focus, strengthen his attention span, and stop reaching for every easy, meaningless involvement that comes along.

I’ll mention five (of ten) items I think Shep needs to sort through if his intentions for a real partner are honorable.  We’ll see how things go. I may publish five more.

1.So Shep,….its time to come to terms with the fantasy of marrying a sweet, privately educated, Southern sorority girl from a strong southern family who has the makings of a skilled wife and mommy.  Those girls are serious about their futures when they’re young and get snatched up by their contemporaries after graduation.  The gap between you and young college graduates is widening by the nanosecond. I’m not brow-beating you for failing to snag your college girlfriend. I’m suggesting, in case you think about it once in a while, you put that thought in the no longer available bin.

2. You are extremely blessed with a loving family. Your parents seem a couple whose connection is authentically solid, rooted in respect, true affection and tradition.  Their love story  has rendered a beautiful family and lifestyle. They are to be congratulated for their dedication to each other and your esteem is well-placed. However, idealizing your parents could be holding you back.

At 38, please understand even the most successful couples have hiccups and struggles. Projecting a united front to the world shows manners and breeding but, even they have had their private strains.

3. Southerners are a group largely misunderstood by the outside world. The south is full of beauty, tragedy, heartache and ghosts. According to my own (undocumented) research, most folks have negative associations with the south (this author exempt). Since you stem from old southern roots, a fellow southerner might understand you best. My stomach catches as I write this. It’s plain weird to suggest that people ‘stick with their kind’. I’m not speaking in terms of religion, heritage, color or socio-economic group. What I mean is, a deep love of the south (for all its good and bad) might be a mutual point of deep connection between you and a potential love.

4. Find a balanced counterpart. Let’s be honest, you are a H -A -M, HAM! You are outgoing and easy with people. You love attention. Your Speedo wearing theatrics is but one example. I see you with a Laura Bush type. Think about it. Politics totally aside, you need a smart, well-mannered, sweet, funny, sincere lady who will give you straight-up advice and balance your antics. Think Laura Bush’s calm, brainy, librarian intellect set against her husband’s loose, partying, lack of structure.* Opposites make wonderful partnerships. Adorable Cameran and her husband are the perfect illustration.

5. Reach for that special feeling. Anyone who has genuinely fallen in love knows that chemistry is key. Some people grow to love one another which is a profound experience too but if you find an authentic spark, a palpable energy with someone, then follow your instinct and don’t give up when the first inconvenience comes along. Be a gentleman. Show respect and value a little restraint. Remember how you fumbled last year? You wanted to be unattached for a weekend wedding and thus let Austin swoop in on the beautiful, smart and fun-loving Chelsea. Enough said. (I hope that didn’t hurt too much.)

Bless the hearts (and I mean this sincerely – no snark attached) of Shep Rose and his castmates for bearing their souls for the rest of us to watch and enjoy. They provide a lot of fun escapism for viewers.

*This referral to Laura and George Bush comes from what I’ve read about the couple’s early days of courtship/marriage and how they found common ground in their relationship. This notation does not indicate any political statement or leaning.  I’m speaking only in terms of marriage and successful personal relationships. 

 

 

Books For Art Lovers

Personal Essays

I just finished, for the second time, Steve Martin’s An Object of Beaty and it inspired me to googel some local art shows. I have one friend, in particular, who is a fellow art lover and I’m hoping I can dangle the offer of lunch and gallery hopping this week. I think she’ll bite.

Not ready to give up this arty feeling, I thought I’d create a short list of books for fellow art lovers. If you don’t have it already, I hope you come down with your own case of art fever. It’s a declicious malady that can never be cured. It can only be fed with more art.

  1. The Last Nude by Ellis Avery – Set between world wars, Avery’s story is of and artist’s obsession with a muse and all the human emotions that go with passion and mania
  2. The Girl with the Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier – Most everyone I know read this when it was flying aroud book club circles like wildfire but its worth a re-read. Also, the book is so much better than the movie so don’t cheat on this one
  3. The Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde –  A classic?, a fable? a decendant of a Greek mythical tale? Yes to all. But also an in-the-face story about how art imitates life. In this case both physically and metaphoically
  4. Seven Days In The Art World by Sarah Thornton – This is a great read to follow An Object of Beauty. It keeps you swadled in the exclusive niche of the New York art scene
  5. Way To Paradise by Mario Vargas Llosa – Parallel stories that illuminate the colorful work of Paul Gauguin

 

Five Books To Revisit This Season

Personal Essays

My husband was gone all weekend. He visited one of our college kids. They planned some hiking advetures that were a little too ambitious for me.

Everyone should spend a weekend alone every once in a while. I made the most of mine by staying snug behind my blue door. I stayed in bed all day Saturday, glued to the coverage of Barbara Pierce Bush’s funeral and all the commentary that followed. She is an aforementioned idol of mine. In all honesty though, had her funeral not been Saturday, its extremely likely I would have stayed in bed watching TV anyway. Today, I gardened a bit and read for several hours in the sun, totally uninterupted, which was decadent since the day was so warm and bright.

As summer approaches, I’ve thought of so many great works worth a reread. I love going back to classics and sometimes books too young to yet be considered classics. Our point of view and the way we interpret an author’s message changes as we age and  gain experiences so although we may be familar with a story, our relationship to the sub-text changes. I invite you to join an experiment to see if you gleen new attitudes and perspectives in your favorite literature.

My Top Five Rereadable Summer Book List:

  1. Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1933.  I guess its selfish to list  my favorite book on top. Academics will say when a book’s theme’s stand the test of time, no matter the era, its considered great literature. Fitzgerald’s deep probe into  pure human folly and ego make him forever contemporary since they are fundamental human flaws that invite discourse in any time period.
  2. An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin, 2010. I can’t imagine what Steve Martin’s IQ is. It must be staggeringly high. It seems there is nothing he can’t do. His credits include actor, comedian, musician, singer, novelist and playwrite. Showcased in the novel An Object of  Beauty is his real-life knowledge of art history and passion for collecting modern American art.
  3. Anything by Ernest Hemingway. The beauty of Hemingway is his masterful, clean, precise style. If you’re headed to the beach and feel like bringing a Heminway novel is too (thematically) heavy, think of it this way:  His work is always a fast read because of strong, unadorned sentence structure. You can just read a chapter at your leisure but you will be left with food for thought for the rest of the day… and much longer.
  4. On The Road by Jack Kerouc,  Jack Kerouc, 1957 was the type of person my parent’s generatoin called beatniks. If you’ve never read On The Road, its perfect for summer as its all about the spirit of his travels (although fictionalized) through North America. He not only helped define his generation but will give you an enthusiastic summer road trip bug.
  5. Galapogus by Kurt Vonnegut, 1985. What isn’t current about the idea taking the human race back one million years? Science fiction that plays with satire, evolution and survivalism. Galapogus is one of those books, along with Vonnegut’s others, you can never forget due to its totally unique style and character development yet it reveals itslelf in new ways every time you read it.

Enjoy Your Reading. What greater pleasure is there?