Martha, Self-Restraint, Best Business Practices

Whatever your feelings are about Martha Stewart, you have to admit she’s a good business woman. She built a media empire and became a zillionaire in the process, although not entirely by playing by the same rules as the rest of us middle-class schmucks, but that’s another story.

So then the other day, I passed through the living room where AD was flipping through the channels and there was Martha on the television speaking to someone in her usual snotty and condescending tone.

It didn’t really catch my attention because Martha always speaks that way, even when she is talking about turnips. But then I heard her trashing Rachael Ray and I just had to stop and find out what crime Rachael had committed against Martha.  Were Rachael’s bed sheets not Egyptian cotton?  Had she used canned green beans in a recipe? No. It turns out that Rachael does not even have a garden!  What kind of low life does not even have a garden?  Show of hands?

Now I’m not Rachael’s PR lady and neither am I her detractor, I’m just saying Rachael is very popular.  Lots of people buy her books and magazines and watch her TV shows. My point is that she is loved by millions and my guess is that most of those people are the same people who buy Martha’s crap stuff.

Then last night as I was dozing off, there was Martha again on my television, this time going off on Sarah Palin.  Martha was dripping with contempt and saying some really ugly things. And again, I’m not here to sing the praises of Sarah or tell you why she is the devil, because everyone seems to have already made up their minds on that.  I’m just saying that millions of people love her.  And wouldn’t you agree that a lot Sarah’s fans are probably K-Mart shoppers? Or Sears shoppers or wherever Martha is hawking her wares these days. Obviously, I don’t keep up with Martha.

For a woman with a head for business, Martha’s lack of  self-restraint mystifies me. I fail to see what benefit it was to Martha to vomit the feelings she has towards Sarah and Rachael all over middle America, thus alienating most of the very people who fill her coffers.  Were those thoughts that simply could not go unexpressed?  Did it endear her to her customer base? No.  I think it made her look really small and sad.

Whatever your feelings are about any of the three women mentioned heretofore, from a purely business standpoint, Martha’s self-indulgent behavior seems to me like a really bad business move and terribly unsavvy.

Martha your lack of restraint surprises me. I thought you were more calculating than that.

The Yarn Lady and I

Awhile back, I created a little something for someone which I sent off in the mail, a little gift of sorts.  It was a little something that took me, oh, about 20 hours to create.  But whatever.  That is neither here nor there.

Several weeks, maybe even a month has passed, and I have heard nothing, no acknowledgement, nada. It is like I am dead to them.  Although.  How can a dead person spend 30 hours making a lil’ something to drop in the mail?  Can’t.  So naturally, my feelings are devastated shredded whipped bruised an itsy bit hurt given that I spent about 40 hours working on this little creative gifty thing.

So, I’m thinking that is kind of weird. Either they hated it or are offended or both. Or they hate me.  Or all three.  Or!  They don’t appreciate that I spent 50 hours of my life working on this little bit o’ art.

So I tell AD about it and he does this thing that always aggravates me.  He’s logical. And charitable.  And worse? He takes up for the offending party.  “Well they probably never received it,” he said.

It is lonely on my bandwagon. Yes it is. Many seats are available. Form one line please.

Shortly thereafter my cell phone rings but I can’t get to it before it goes to voice mail. Later I check the voice mail and it is someone from a galaxy far far away, in another area code, someone I don’t know.  She has left a long and rambling message for someone who is not me. For five minutes she talks about the new baby and the yarn she has bought and what would I like for her to make for the new baby and on and on.

I considered calling the yarn lady back, but I have a phone phobia.  I do not like to talk on the telephone. I am fearful that I might just blurt out some random thought (a lot like this post) or that I might launch into an unfortunate choice of story and not be able to stop myself. Like this post.

And based on the length of the message, I have to assume she would engage me and there would be talking, a lot of talking, maybe even about yarn which I know nothing about, and I just can’t do it.  I’m just telling you that up front because I know y’all will blast me for not returning the call. But I just can’t. I would email her but that is the one bit of information she didn’t leave.


So when AD came down for lunch, I told him about the yarn lady and the wrong number.

He shook his head and laughed and may have even pointed his finger at me.  “Somewhere,” he said “there is a woman with hurt feelings because someone never acknowledged her.”

So I said the most obvious and logical thing.  “Fine! Fix your own lunch.”

10.2 Ways To Be A Gracious Guest

Yesterday we looked at some ways to make entertaining more fun and easy, so today I thought I would take a look at the flip side — how to be a good guest and endear yourself to your hostess.

1. RSVP as soon as possible. Responding the day before or the day of the party is better late than never, but it is really bad form and just plain not nice.  Be considerate and repondez s’il vous plait pronto y’all.

1.1 This is not an official don’t, but it is a pet peeve of mine — Do not call the hostess on the way to the party and ask for directions. Chances are she’s really busy attending to last minute details and greeting guests and doing a thousand other things.  Take the time to Google directions before you go.

2.  Do not show up early for a party under any circumstances for any reason ever.  Be fashionably late. For a small cocktail party or a come-and-go, fashionably late means 10-30 minutes.  For a dinner party, 15-20 minutes at the most.  Beyond that, the hostess gets nervous.

2. Do not show up with your kids unless they have explicitly been invited.  Do not show up with your out of town in-laws or other relatives unless they have been invited.  Do not call and ask if you can bring a few extra people because it puts the hostess in an awkard position — she has to say yes or look like a meanie.  If you have unexpected company, call the hostess and offer your regrets explaining that you are sorry that you won’t be able to make it and tell her why. If she wishes to include your company, she will offer.

2.1. If your children are invited, you are still responsible for them.  Check on them from time to time to make sure they are not setting the house on fire.

3. I think a small hostess gift is a really nice expression of gratitude. Make it something small and special but not terribly personal or embarrassingly expensive.  Here are some ideas:  note cards, wine glass charms, candles, a holiday ornament, small rosemary plant, a gourmet food item (chocolates, olives, sauces, biscotti and coffee or tea, jellies), a small book or something home baked like  pumpkin bread or cookies.  Other ideas?

4.  Do not bring food to a dinner party expecting it to be served unless you have been asked to do so.  It is presumptuous and the hostess will be put in the position of having to serve your King Ranch casserole next to her Beef Wellington.  She will resent you for it and she will wish a pox of termites upon your house.

5. If you have been asked to bring a dish to the party, bring it ready to set on the table.  Do not come to the party with a bag of groceries and then ask for a knife and cutting board so you can make your famous homemade salsa.  The last thing the hostess wants is another mess in her kitchen.

6.  Do not bring your own food to eat in a little Tupperware container. If you have food issues, eat at home before you come and just play along graciously. I’m going to retract this one on behalf of  Celiac patients.

7. If you don’t see it, don’t ask for it.  If the hostess is serving hamburgers, do not ask where she’s hiding the chicken.  If you don’t see wine or soft drinks or your favorite diet drink, don’t ask.

8.  Do not clear the table.  Offer to help clear the table, but accept no for an answer. If the hostess says to leave it, then leave it.  It could be she doesn’t trust you with her grandmother’s china.

9.  Be at the party – engage!  See if you can listen more than you speak, ask more than you tell.  Participate and contribute.  Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself and be quick to introduce others. It’s okay to ask someone to remind you of their name, even if they just told you. It happens to all of us and no one should be offended by that.

10. Know when to go. If the hostess is slumped in a chair with her shoes off and yawning, it might be time to wrap up your  fascinating life story and say goodnight.

10.1  A follow up note or email to say, “Great party! Thanks for the invite!” is a super duper nice thing to do and ups the odds that you’ll get invited back.

10.2 Reciprocate! Have a get-together of your own!

The Ten Commandments of Entertaining

With the holidays just around the corner, I thought I’d share with you my list of the top ten things you can do to make entertaining fun and easy for you and your guests.  These are just off the top of my head and I may drop a few more on you as we draw nearer the holidays.

1. Do as much ahead of time as humanly possible.  I can’t emphasize this enough.   If it can be frozen, freeze it.  Except for lighting candles, almost everything can be done ahead of time.  I have even set the table a week ahead and covered it with a sheet.

2.  Start with an empty dishwasher. Always, always, always start with an empty dishwasher no matter you are serving 4 or 44.

3. Let people help. If someone asks for a job, give them one:  put ice in the glasses, pour water, etc. – anything that requires little instruction.

4. Music is lovely, but make sure guests don’t need to shout to be heard.

5.  Use the good stuff. That’s why you have it.

6.  If you can only clean one room, make it the bathroom. Put out fresh hand towels. This is not optional.

7. Keep the lights on the low side and no one will notice that the only room you cleaned was the bathroom.

8.  Receive compliments graciously.  When someone says, “Oh your home is lovely!” the only acceptable response to this is “Thank you!”   Do not say that you wish you had a larger laundry room or that you hate your kitchen layout.

9. Never ever stress about something not turning out right in front of your guests.  They won’t remember what wasn’t up to par.  They will remember that you fretted over it.  A harried hostess makes guests uncomfortable.

10.  The single most important thing you can do as a hostess is to enjoy your company.  Once your guests arrive, it’s time to focus on them.  Whatever is undone shall remain undone.

10.1 No flaming pineapples.

Yes, It Really Is At The Top Of My Priority List

A couple of readers, including my own husband, asked me if teaching Sean good manners was really  the TOP priority in my life.

Yes. Yes it is.

On the whole it would seem there would be other things at the top of that long list like trying to get him to eat vegetables or teaching him how to make coffee, but no, the most important thing I can teach him is to be a well mannered gentleman.

Why?  Because good manners make the world a nicer place.  Because I want Sean to be equally comfortable dining with a prince or a pauper.  Because good manners and the well written thank you note can take you a long way in life.  Because good manners are the mark of good breeding.

Those reasons are all true enough, but not the real reason.

The real reason that I am relentless in my quest to instill good manners in Sean is because it will be the single most important outward display of the faith that I hope he will one day choose to take on as his own.  Good manners are all about showing respect and consideration towards others and putting others first.  And that, more than anything else, will be his greatest testimony.

In my view, good manners are an expression of the core tenant of my faith, which is love thy neighbor.  Paul tells the Galatians that all of God’s law can be summed up in this one command — to love others as oneself.  As they say, love is a verb and that verb must be well mannered or it’s probably not love.

Well mannered people are not rude, self-seeking or easily angered. Scripture says that love is not rude, self-seeking or easily angered. Therefore, love is clothed in good manners.

So then, if you are a Christian and you are not using good and gentle manners and treating others with love and respect, and you are not teaching your children to do so, nothing else you are doing for the kingdom really matters, you are failing your faith. You simply cannot love God without acting loving and kindly towards others.  Paul writes in 1st Corinthians, “If I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”  Good manners and love for others are inextricably intertwined.  Love for others and love for God are inextricably intertwined.  Good manners can be absent of love, but love cannot be absent of good manners.

Do I always do it? No. I fail daily in some way. Sometimes I fail miserably right here on this blog.  Sometimes I fail my own family.  Other times I fail by omission, by not taking the opportunity to extend kindness or offer a word of encouragement.  And that is a shame because it costs nothing to be kind and respectful, to be well mannered.

So when I say that teaching Sean good manners is at the top of my priority list, it is.  And hopefully, in the process of teaching, the teacher will learn too.

Emily Post 101 – Sign Your Kids Up

I think I’m a fairly relaxed parent, but I have a zero-tolerance policy for bad manners.  

This may be a bit of an overstatement, maybe not, but I tend to think that at the root of our societal ills is the fact that our society is too casual, too relaxed and good manners are not important any more.  It is my top priority in life to teach Sean to respect others and how to behave properly and so consequently he gets away with nothing in that regard. And honestly, it has been a lot of hard work these past five years to stay on his case with the please and thank you’s and beyond, but I am relentless. 

I think the idea that children should be taught good manners crystallized for me about 15 years ago.  Back in 1994, my friend Patty was expecting her first baby.  As is the custom, I went to Toys R Us to buy her a baby gift.  I was nearly a decade away from becoming a mother at that time, so I knew a lot about how parenting should be done properly. 

After I selected my gift, I stood in line behind a young gal with a little boy who was sitting in the seat of the cart. He was probably three years old.  He had a toy in his hands that obviously had come from the store. 

So I was standing there minding my own business, waiting my turn to check out, when Bubba spit at me. 

I stepped back quickly, dodged the incoming loogie and in my firm voice used primarily for getting the attention of my disobedient dog, I reflexively said, “Hey Buddy! DON’T you spit at me!” 

It was a knee-jerk reaction, but in retrospect, it was inappropriate to direct my comment towards the child.  But 15 years later, I’m still not quite sure what the appropriate response is when spat upon.  Also in retrospect, I can’t quite see myself tapping the mother on the shoulder to inform her little Bubba had just tried to spit on me.  That just has confrontation written all over it and if ever there is a place I want to avoid confrontation it is at Toys R Us and church. There are all kinds of rules about correcting other people’s children and now five years into parenting, I still am not clear on what they are. 

Had there been another check out lane open, I would have probably just moved, but I was stuck. 

And then he spit at me again. 

His mother turns to me at this point and she kind of chuckles and says, “Oh his grandpa chews tobacco and I guess he saw him spittin’…” 

Oddly enough, that bit of information didn’t in any way make me find the scene nearly as amusing as she did, so I raised my eyebrows and looked at her like she was from Mars.  But really I doubt that even the Martians allow their children to spit upon strangers.   And then she turned back to the cashier and proceeded to buy Bubba the toy he had in his grubby little hands.  And I just could not believe it. 

It was at this point that I raised my eyebrows so high I could have tucked them behind my ears.  Now, granted, at that point in my life, I was not fully aware or even slightly aware of how embarrassed one can be by one’s child.  But still. I knew even then that if MY child ever spat upon someone that I would come down on him hard and fast and apologies would be forthcoming and no way on God’s green earth would we be leaving the store WITH A TOY forPetessake! 

And while I have eaten many a heapin’ helpin’ of crow in the last five years years, my stance on spitting children has not changed.  I had all kinds of grandiose ideas about child-rearing that have fallen by the wayside, but if anything, my stance on the importance of manners is more deeply rooted than ever.  You might check back with me in another ten years.  

I’m firm on manners.  All else is subject to change.

The Little Red Car

One of the problems of being an older parent of an only child — a child that is especially delightful and charming and works the strings of my heart like an angel strumming a harp — is not caving in and spoiling him rotten. It takes a lot of restraint. It takes a lot of that self-control stuff that I’m trying to teach him.

Antique Daddy and I believe that over-indulging the desires of Sean’s heart would be to abuse him. We believe that it is good for Sean to not have everything he wants, to long for something a little bit, to have to save up for something.  I believe these things in theory.  In practice, I could use some practice.

Grandparents do not believe this in theory or practice.

* * * * *

In the past year or so, every time we have gone to Wal-Mart, Sean asks if we can stop and look at the little battery operated cars – Barbie cars, Lightning McQueen cars, Jeeps, John Deere tractors. He stands in front of the wall of tiny vehicles and gazes upon their magnificence. His eyes sparkle with desire. I can see that he is imagining himself tooling around the neighborhood in the little red Lightning McQueen car waving to everyone he sees.

“Mom, can we get one of those little cars?” he asks.

“Well Sean, they’re really expensive. They cost about $300. That’s a lot of money,” I tell him.

“Please Mom, I really want one,” he pleads.

“I know you do. That would be a really big present. I’d have to talk to Daddy about that.”

“Maybe?” he asks, hopefully.

“Maybe someday,” I tell him. “We can’t buy everything we want.”

He doesn’t really understand that.

* * * * *

Recently I got a Tuesday Morning ad in the mail and I noticed that they had a little red Dale Earnhardt battery-powered car for $99. I was sorely tempted to run down to Tuesday Morning and get Sean one because a) it was only $99 and b) I was imagining how his eyes would light up when he saw it.  And I love it when I make his eyes light up, it jump starts my soul.

But I didn’t.

What stopped me was a) I would have to explain to Antique Daddy that I had breached our agreement for $99,  b) the little red car would have to occupy space in our garage that we do not have and c) that whole not over-indulging my child theory I’m supposed to be practicing.

* * * * *

Just before Mother’s Day the phone rang and it was Papa George – Papa George the grandfather who is immune from the rules governing the over-indulgence of children.

“Tell Sean I gotta surprise for him,” Papa George said in his Alabama drawl.

“Oh George,” I sighed. “What have you done?”

Papa George played the Grandpa card, confessed to buying the car, offered no apologies and hung up.

So we went to Tuna to celebrate Mother’s Day, and there it was in the middle of the living room — the little red car of Sean’s dreams. It was half way hidden under a blanket. Like Houdini, Sean pulled the blanket away, clutched his heart and gasped in disbelief.

“I can’t believe my eyes!” he screamed. “I have wanted one of these my entire life!”

Now, even if the story were to end here, y’all would probably be thinking, “That Papa George! What a fantastic grandpa!” And you would be right, but you have no idea.

Papa George is 81-years-old and his spine is crumbling. He has a hard time standing for 10 minutes at a time without white hot pain. It’s hard for him to get around. Yet he got up at 6am, drove to Tuesday Morning and stood in line for two hours to get Sean the little red car. Two hours.

Photos Temporarily Unavailable

Papa George doesn’t know how to love small.

With no prodding from his parents, Sean jumped into the recliner with Papa George and gave him a big hug and a kiss and told him how much he liked the car.

I don’t know if that eased Papa George’s back pain any, but I’m sure it was good medicine for his heart. It was for mine.

I’m just hoping a boy can be a little bit spoiled and not be rotten.