Monday, May 30, 2016

Manners Monday - Graduation Etiquette: Say Goodbye with Grace & Seize an Attitude of Gratitude

Graduation is upon our family in a huge way.  The next two weeks my daughters will be moving on from Elementary School and Middle School respectively and we will be saying goodbye to their private school education and welcoming in a new era of public school. The occasion is going to be bittersweet. We have met some incredible families whom we love and will be sad to leave, but we are also looking forward to having our girls attend school in a slightly less competitive environment that is located close to home and with a bit more diverse makeup that is more representative of the real world.  Don't get me wrong, they are still going to school in one of the best zip codes in the world - Beverly Hills 90210 - however contrary to mass perception, not everyone owns a private jet and shops on Rodeo Drive. Old apartment buildings line the city and many families can rent for a fraction of the cost of owning a home and still send their kids to the schools. It's not as if we're leaving the state, but it will be different. There is still a stigma associated with public school. Years ago, it was the other way around and only the problem children were sent to private. Now private is for the privileged and public is the ugly stepsister.  But, the tide is slowly turning and more families are warming up to the idea, especially those who meticulously follow the matriculation rates and realize that if their kids are not in the top 1% at private, they may actually have a better chance of getting into an Ivy League from a public education.  But I digress...

Graduating from school is a big deal at any age. With tuitions hitting record highs and academic standards reaching new plateaus, the pressure cooker to stay in school and get good grades can be debilitating. It demands a student’s fierce dedication and a family’s unwavering commitment. As a show appreciation and sign of respect to everyone who has helped you to prepare for this day, here are 7 ways for the graduate to say goodbye with grace and seize an attitude of gratitude.  

1. Cordially Invite.  Eschew the electronic invite in favor of customized printed invitations to distribute to family members and close friends two months in advance.  While you want to make everyone feel special, tickets are typically limited to attend the ceremony. Circumvent hurt feelings by making sure all guests receive an invitation to the celebration afterward.  

2. Dress To Impress.  Although you may be covered from head to toe in cap and gown, graduates should dress to impress in appropriate commencement attire. Ladies should wear a dress, slacks or skirt with a nice blouse. Flats or low heeled shoes for comfort and safe walking.  Limit accessories to only those that are necessary. Gentlemen should wear dress pants or khakis with pressed button-down shirts and a belt.  Tied shoes or loafers for footwear.  If applicable, caps are worn flat on the head with the tassels on the right side unless otherwise instructed for photos, etc. Caps are removed by gentlemen only as a sign of respect during the National Anthem.

3. Glean Jewels from Commencement Speeches.  This is not the time to take a snooze. Put down your phone, sit up straight, perk up your ears, and lean in.  After years of schooling, you must now apply what you’ve learned in the real world and that is no simple task. The commencement speech delivers the goods on exactly what it will take to not only survive, but thrive.  Legendary commencement speakers offer priceless pearls of wisdom that still resonates.  Listen with intent, take the advice to heart and aspire to live up to the standard your education has provided you.  

4. Receive the Diploma in a Dignified Manner.  You will rehearse countless times how to approach the stage to receive your diploma, but here are a few extra pointers to be mindful of. Posture, posture, posture! Stand tall, shoulders down and back and walk with dignity being careful not to trip on your gown. Make good eye contact, administer a solid handshake with your right hand using two pumps, and use your left hand to accept the diploma. If applicable, move the tassel on your cap if directed by the photographer and be sure to smile with your eyes, as well as your teeth.  Continue offstage confidently and return to your seat. 

5. Split Time Sensibly between Guests & Grads.  Guests have come far and wide to witness the occasion and they deserve a little quality time and undivided attention before running off to party with your friends. If your family is hosting a celebratory luncheon or dinner on your behalf, make it your mission to be charming, gracious, interesting, interested and grateful.  Connect with each guest and personally thank them for coming.

6. Allocate Announcements.  If you have extended family and friends whom you’d like to share in your joyous occasion, limit announcements to those who actually know you are graduating.  “No gifts please” should be added so recipients understand this is purely a gesture to include them in your achievement.

7. Handwrite Appreciation.  Hopefully, you own personalized stationery or a have a box of thank you notes stashed in your drawer as you are going to need it. Thank you notes should be written within a one to two-week period.  Monetary gifts may include a sentence on how the money will be used such as towards future savings or special purchase. Being the gracious graduate you are, an expression of gratitude will also be mailed to those who came to support you but did not bring a gift.  

Monday, May 23, 2016

Manners Monday - From the Promposal to the After-Party, Prom Night Done Right!

It was 1985, senior year and I asked my on-again, off-again boyfriend who was two years older and had already graduated high school, to escort me to the prom.  At Beverly Hills High School, prom was held in the same ballroom as the Golden Globes.  We had a very large class of about 600 students so we required a big space.  Finding the right dress for the occasion was no small feat.  My mother took me to a seamstress on Rodeo Drive who would make a royal blue taffeta strapless ensemble straight out of a John Hughes film.  I dyed my satin Charles Jordan shoes to match and embellished them with rhinestone clip-on hearts to complement my rhinestone earrings. You gotta love the 80’s! 

Things seemed so much simpler back then. Prom goers were forced to relate to one another in person in real time. Your date had to actually walk to the front door to meet and greet you along with your parents. They made good eye contact, shook hands, and engaged in polite small talk before heading out for the evening. Requisite photos were taken on good old-fashioned 35mm cameras and we were forced to wait for what-felt-like-forever for the film to be developed.  No one took selfies.  If we wanted a photo of ourselves, we handed the camera over to someone else to take it.  Our attire, while totally cheesy, was wholesome and age appropriate, not revealing or distasteful. Transportation consisted of three to four couples pitching in and piling into a stretch limo for the night. This was vastly different from the SUV's and Uber's that blanket our streets today.  The Grand Ballroom at the hotel was decorated with a sea of sixty inch round tables adorned with balloons, carnation centerpieces, and a ton of confetti. We chatted and we danced. Sometimes we were too cool for school, but we stayed until the bitter end.  After the prom, most of my friends headed to Palm Springs, but my boyfriend and I opted for Lake Arrowhead. I still recall the hike we took and the photo of the two of us sitting on a rock in the sun.  I was in heaven.  Wish I could find those photos. They’re probably nestled deep down in a drawer with my other embarrassing teenage memories. 

Prom in 2016 is an entirely different animal.  From pretentious promposals and designer dresses to luxurious pampering and stylish hotels, the sky’s the limit for today’s precocious teens. But there are also a million ways a prom can turn sour, the hashtag #ruinpromin4words recently trended on Twitter recounting all types of bad behavior.  My advice, enjoy this rite of passage by leaving a lasting and positive impression.  Here’s how to do prom right from the initial ask to the final goodnight.

The Ask. Asking a date to prom has changed dramatically from private inquiry to a public announcement.  Gone are the days when a suitor would pick up the phone or present a rose to a potential date in person. Now, they spend hours scouring the internet for unique ways to craft an unforgettable 'promposal' to rival the most outrageous wedding proposal. Whether it comes in the form of an announcement made live on national morning television or written in the sky via plane, it must be done well in advance or certainly by the time tickets go on sale.  Don’t even think about emailing or texting, these 'asks' occur in front of a full audience with plenty of fanfare and witnesses. Saying yes is easy, it’s turning down an offer that requires grace. A simple, I appreciate you thinking of me...but I’ve already made other plans/will be going with my best friend/decided to go with a group, will suffice.  And, there is no hall pass for better offers. Once you commit to a prom date, stick to it.   Even if it’s the potential love of your life, this is non-negotiable.  Be your word and make the best of the evening.  The good karma g-ds will smile kindly upon you.

The Attendance. Not all prom goers are happily coupled at event time nor are they forced into traditional male/female relationships. Some may choose to go solo (a la Pretty in Pink) or attend as part of a larger group (Girl’s Night anyone?) while others representing the LGBTQ community may arrive with a partner of the same gender. All preferences are welcome as most schools are becoming increasingly conscious to make everyone feel comfortable and included.

The Funds.  Prom costs can range from bare minimum to the extravagant depending upon budget and taste.  Discuss with parents an overall amount and then plug in the hard costs from the promposal to the after party including the attire, the transportation, the prom tickets, the flowers, the food and the photos. If an overnight stay is on the table, factor in the accommodations as well.  On average, a prom these days can set you back $900.00 when all is said and done. But do not feel pressure to break the bank, there are less expensive options for every detail. Apply a bit of creativity and style and no one will be the wiser.  

The Attire.  Girls are no longer adhering to the strict floor length dress codes and gone are the days of the matching satin baby blue cummerbund and bow tie for guys.  In terms of attire, stylistic license is more acceptable as long as it is tasteful and appropriate.  Fashion forward girls have been known to don a formal suit or tux for the occasion! The invitation dictates the clothing and certain rules still apply. Formal dress demands a tuxedo and knee to floor length gown. For semi-formal attire, only a sports jacket and short dress is expected. Whether two-piece or sleek and minimal, be mindful of cut out’s and cleavage.  To color-coordinate with your date, a swatch may be provided.

The Dough.  Who Pays? Back in the day, it was traditional for the gentleman to pay for the tickets to attend prom. In today’s times, technically, whomever poses the question should pay. The key is to communicate with your date and your parents as to who will foot the bill for what. Typically, each party will pay for their flowers, grooming, attire and accessories. A word to the wise gents - whatever you do, do not ask your date to go Dutch.

The Flowers.  It is part of the prom tradition for dates to present flowers to one another. Gentlemen purchase corsages to be placed on the wrist or the dress of the girls and ladies purchase boutonnieres to be placed on their date’s jacket.  The purpose of this ritual and exchange helps to set the tone for the evening. Upon arrival, a gentleman presents the corsage by opening the box for his date.  To properly assist your date with her corsage, turn the inside of her arm facing up and then gently slip it onto her wrist.  This will help prevent damage to the flowers. If she prefers to pin the corsage to the bodice or shoulder strap of her dress, ask whether she would like assistance.  Ladies will offer to pin the boutonniere on the left lapel of the gentlemen’s jacket.  When it comes to what to choose, the couple should take a trip to the florist to determine design and color to match each other, as well as their outfits.  Pick up for both should occur on the day of the prom to ensure the flowers are at their freshest. For bonus points, gentleman may wish to purchase a small bouquet or wristlet for the mother of his date as well.

The Wheels.  Selecting which type of transportation to arrive at prom in style is an important decision that should be discussed between the couple. In some cases the school may provide a bus, however most arrange a private bus (the Mercedes version) for a group of friends or car and driver for just a few couples.  Uber or Lyft is a third option for those who want to ride alone, have flexibility, and keep costs down. Regardless of which type of wheels you choose, the same rules apply. A gentlemen allows the lady to enter the car first and exit first offering a hand to lend assistance.  If using a chauffeur or professional driver, allow them to open and close the doors for you and your date.  The lady enters first and then the driver will open the door on the opposite side for the gentleman. No smoking, vaping or drinking in the car.  At the end of the evening, if the tip is not included, it is appropriate to tip the driver a cash amount between $50-$100 or 20% of the total.  

The Family. Picking up your date requires some quality time with their family.  Plan ahead, punctuality is a sign of respect.  Walk to the front door to greet your date properly.  Do not text from the car or, heaven forbid, honk the horn to signal your arrival.  If your date is introducing you for the first time, she will defer to her parents, “Mom and dad, I’d like to introduce to you Luke Jones, my date for the prom. Luke these are my parents, Mr. and Mrs. Jones”.  In return, the gentleman responds with “It’s very nice to meet you” while flashing a toothy smile, making good eye contact, and shaking hands with two pumps.

The Dining. Impress your companion with this quick tutorial on formal dining skills. Once everyone has arrived at the table, ladies take a step to the right to be seated by the gentlemen. Napkins should then be folded in half lengthwise and placed in laps. Use a napkin to wipe your mouth and to capture a sneeze or cough at the table. If getting up during the meal, the napkin is placed on the seat of the chair.  At the end of the meal, the napkin is laid on the table to the left of the place setting.  Whether a sit down dinner or buffet, break and butter bread one bite size piece at a time, scoop soup away from you, and utilize both a fork and knife to efficiently enter food into your mouth. Remember, the acronym BMW going left to right which signifies the bread plate, the meal, and water glass.  In the buffet line, cater to your date first. It should go without saying, but be polite and use the magic words with all wait staff. Do not begin eating until everyone is served. Sit up straight with good posture and take small bites to keep the focus on conversation. 

The Behavior.  Rudeness is a huge turnoff.  Give your date the attention they deserve by keeping your phone out of view.  Use it for taking photos only, not to multi-task, text or use as an excuse to disengage. Gentlemen, break out the chivalrous behavior.  Walk your lady curbside, open her door and let her walk into the room first, pull out her chair, and shower her with sincere compliments.  Ask her to dance. Escort her where appropriate. Never ditch your date to socialize with friends. At the end of the evening, walk her respectfully to the front door.  Ladies, keep it light and breezy. This is not the time to take stock of your relationship and put demands on your date. Be polite, poised, positive and fun!  

The Dancing.  Most ladies love to dance and will drag their dates to the dancefloor. Dancing with a group of friends generally happens organically, it’s the slow dancing that prom-goers feel compelled to pair up.  Be respectful to your date and dance with them only.  If someone other than your partner asks to cut in, politely decline.  

The Photos. Once everyone is camera ready, the photo taking extravaganza commences.  To memorialize this rite of passage you’ll want a combination of professional looking photos and fun candid shots.  Make sure to monitor selfies and ask permission prior to tagging.  The emphasis should be on being present to the people in front of you rather than posting relentlessly.  After all, it’s about enjoying the moment to the fullest, not feeling a slave to your social media.

The Goodnight. If the stars were not aligned for you and your date and you’d rather forgo the final kiss goodnight, a simple, “Thank you for a lovely evening” accompanied by a friendly handshake will send a gracious message of appreciation and nothing more.  Read your date’s body language before making an advance.  Our non-verbal language speaks volumes about how we are truly feeling. 

The Thank You.  A gesture that is sure to impress is to write a note of thanks to the committee chair(s) for their hard work and dedication. As prom-goer, you are an ambassador of your school and your community, and your thoughtfulness will leave a positive and lasting impression. 

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Mom is CEO, First Lady & Role Model Rolled into One Pretty Package – NO Pressure!

In the past week, I have heard a rainbow of responses from mothers about what will transpire this Mother’s Day.  One of my girlfriends who is not a fan of Hallmark holidays absolutely dreads the day and would rather ignore it entirely. Another mom I chatted up in spin class said her Mother’s Day has never once been about her and instead is about placating her mother and mother-in-law.  At a luncheon I attended recently, I laughed out loud when I heard that in anticipation of Mother’s Day this mom surreptitiously added money to her daughter’s credit card in the hope of receiving a decent Mother’s Day gift. A mantra from most of the mothers I’ve talked to is that they simply do not want to spearhead the planning of their own Mother’s Day.  Their needs are simple.They want to sleep in and not be bogged down by questions and carpooling and other demands typically put upon them every other day of the year.  A mother who had the faintest idea of what was in store for her special day summed it up best when she told me, “You have to have zero expectations, so you aren’t disappointed.” 

Meanwhile, zero expectations is the complete antithesis of what a mom fulfills for her children on a nearly daily basis.  She is, after all, CEO of the household, First Lady of the family, and the original role model rolled into one pretty package. She is the go-to-gal for virtually everything.  Scraped knee, belly ache, hurt feelings, bruised heart?  No problem, she is on it with ice packs, hot compresses, an ear to listen, and a shoulder to lean on. She is a jack-of-all trades, superhero combining the expert skills of a doctor, lawyer, limo driver, plumber, housekeeper, chef, party planner, travel agent, and so much more.  She is a master scheduler and ninja multi-tasker.  When it comes to her children, nothing can stand in her way.  She will move mountains and part seas to protect them. She is a tiger mom, a soccer mom, and a mama bear armed with a take-no-prisoners attitude and a don’t-even-think-about-messing-with-me spirit. And that is why we love her!

Mom as role-model possesses an ethereal elegance. She is poised, composed, thoughtful, presentable, well-spoken, and, of course, well-mannered.  We hold her up on a pedestal and demand her absolute best all of the time.  Does this job come with a great deal of pressure?  You betcha!  Why do you think so many moms count the seconds until they can glean just one peaceful moment to down their wine devoid of interruption?  For all of these reasons and a thousand more, it is important to show mom the love on this day dedicated to her greatness and to recognize that with all of the amazing things she does, she is also human and she will make mistakes, grave mistakes every now and again.  

So today cut her some slack and shower her with the love she so rightly deserves.  Do a dish, take out the garbage, hold your tongue, set the table, pull out her chair, help her with her coat, give her a hug, and most importantly, say thank you and tell her how much you appreciate her.  That is guaranteed to put a smile on her face at least until…Father’s Day.  Don’t even get me started on moms many roles and responsibilities when it comes to the care and keeping of DAD!