Saturday, July 25, 2009

Vacation Photos 2009: Part I, Atlanta

You will now suffer through my vacation photos. You will do it, if you are my friend.

Atlanta, visiting Sven's brother, Lars, and their family:


Princess with her cousins

Dexy, naked, driving the car. It's progressive parenting.

Princess availing herself of the doggie door.

Good times.

Princess and the "F-word"

It happened. Princess said the F-word.

I thought I was prepared for this moment. I knew it was just a matter of time before she picked it up from our fast-and-loose media culture.

But when it came, it came out of nowhere.

"Mommy, are you fat?" Said with a look in her eye that said, "I know the answer, but I need to hear you say it."

What could I say? I have been fat my whole life, so this really shouldn't be an unexpected moment.

And I don't tell you this to get protests or reassurances. I'm fat. If I were 12 inches taller, I would still be fat. I look like those people you see on the news, with their heads cut off, wearing elastic-waist sweat pants and polo shirts, just strolling along in packs to illustrate how fat Americans are becoming. In fact, some of them look good compared to me.

I'm fat. But, I'm also smart, funny, sexy, and, in my own way, quite gorgeous. I consider my weight to be one thing about me, a thing I'd like to change, but just one thing. I think about it sometimes, but I don't let it define me. In fact, there are entire days that I forget that I'm fat. I will attempt to have one of those again sometime very soon...

"Yes, I am," I answered after a brief out-of-body experience that I'm sure she didn't notice.

"Why are you fat?" she asked. Princess is nothing if not forthright.

"Because I eat too much and don't exercise enough," I replied.

"Why not?" she asked.

"Because I'm lazy," I said. "I don't want to be fat. I'm trying to change that."

"I don't like being fat either," she said. Great. I've now got my 3-year-old on the road to an eating disorder.

"Honey, you're not fat," I answered. "You're healthy."

"Healthy. Yeah," she said. "Daddy's not fat."

"He's a little fat," I said, somewhat stung.

"No, he's just really healthy," she answered.

Sven wins again.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Division of Labor II: Soakers vs. Non

If you recall, I recently published a very controversial post* regarding the way Sven and I divide the labor in our household.

The morning the post was published, I again attacked a sinkful of dishes after emptying a load from the dishwasher that had been placed there by Sven. It was in the sink that I encountered one of the most potentially divisive, explosive issues in a marriage:

Leaving a dirty pan or dish in the sink "to soak."

I admit, I soak. This may shock my mother and sister, but in my youth I was a frivolous soaker, choosing to leave something "to soak" just because I didn't feel like washing it. I learned my lesson. I no longer commit this heinous act.

When Sven and I went back to school, we lived in a small house we purchased with the last of our savings. We had very little. The house had no central air (in Beaumont, TX), we had no furniture, no stove, and no dishwasher. Washing dishes in that house was a matter of survival; in the spring, summer, fall, and early winter, the heat and humidity in the kitchen made soaking something simply impossible. I would get those dishes washed as quickly as possible, as would Sven.

After we had lived in the house about a year, we bought a small dishwasher and remodeled the kitchen. We did this on our own, buying the cheapest materials, but we bought the dishwasher knowing it was not strictly "necessary," but wanting our lives to be just a little easier.

It was WONDERFUL. To just take a dirty dish and put it in the was amazing. I felt like the Queen. Or Oprah.

With a dishwasher, though, came the need to soak again. And here was where another startling rift was revealed between Sven and myself: Sven does not know how, or when, to soak a dish. So for him, and the betterment of all mankind, I post these

  1. If you are soaking many small things, fill a sink with a few inches of hot, soapy water, then let them soak until the water cools.
  2. If you are soaking big things, fill the big thing with hot, soapy water.
  3. If the big thing doesn't fit inside the sink, put it to the side. Do not, to take a random example, fill a giant glass baking dish with water, then balance it precariously over the sink, so that there is no way to use the sink.
If it has sticky food on it, and you can't wash it right away, soak it. Or rinse it. Or something.

Several times a year, Sven makes his famous potato salad. This potato salad is only made in giant vats; Sven claims he cannot get it right with less than 5 pounds of potatoes. When he makes this potato salad, family members suddenly discover quart-sized Tupperware in their purses, so they can "help clear out some of these leftovers!" It's a good thing, too, because we never finish it, even with the Oliver Twist-like antics of my nearest and dearest.

Sven made some potato salad on the 4th of July. The sad, lonely remainder had sat in the fridge, ready to be cleared. So Sven took care of it by moving the covered bowl from the fridge to the counter by the sink. Where I found it, sad lonely remainder and all.

In this instance, soaking would have been acceptable. It would have been desirable. Anything, I beg you.

Sometimes, a little soaking is okay.

*(It was only controversial in my house, after Sven read it and declared that I know nothing about the correct way to load dishes, and my feet stink. Ever sensitive to the way your better class of people {i.e. "celebrities"} handle personal insults, I got a Cheeto-dust spray-tan and began being seen about town with a female DJ of dubious background. The controversy has since subsided, but I owe an apology to my neighbors for the horde of paparazzi and inexplicable techno beat that has surrounded my house for the past week.)

And a big, extra special thank you to Jill at Sneaky Momma Blog Design for my awesome blog makeover!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Social Responsibility: The Cut

One thing we really talk about is social responsibility. For etiquette to work properly, each player must know his or her part and perform it perfectly. That's what makes it a challenge: how can you be polite to someone who has been rude to you? (You can, I promise.) So we talk a lot about how we let people know they are being rude, and how one "punishes" someone who has committed a social error.

Which leads me to the "cut direct."

In etiquette, the "cut direct" is the ultimate punishment. It is only considered acceptable (I don't think it is ever considered polite) under the gravest of circumstances, when someone has wronged you so grievously that conventional apologies simply won't do.

When applying the "cut direct," there are three parts that must be played. Attention, etiquette students: this is essential:

1. The "Cutter": must make it obvious that he/she sees the person, but chooses not to acknowledge that person's existence in any way. A frozen posture, staring directly at the person, then a deliberate turning away with no acknowledgement works. Add a bitter laugh and toss back a dry sherry for that extra, classy flair.

2. The "Cuttee": must make it obvious that he/she noticed the cut in one of two ways: immediate fleeing of the room, preferably with audible sobs; or a brave-but-trembling smile followed by tears in the bathroom. Runny mascara and smeared lipstick works well for the ladies, not so much the men (in most circles).

3. The "Bystanders": must attempt to smooth the awkwardness by being frozen in embarrassment for no less than 3 seconds, then all speaking and laughing at once while attempting to form a human barricade between "Cutter" and "Cuttee." It is the responsibility of the Bystanders to say nothing about the incident to anyone, until the next night's Mah-Jongg party over brandy-laced Earl Grey.*

Without all three players, the "Cut Direct" becomes nothing more than the "Jerry Springer Episode No One Wants to See."

A fantastic example of the Cut, properly applied, is in the book "Gone With the Wind." In the book, Scarlett is walking down the sidewalk when she spies several of the "old cats" she has been so contemptuous of. They stop, obviously seeing her approach, then they cross the street to avoid having to speak to her. Scarlett is so embarrassed that she runs straight home, absolutely mortified that anyone might have seen her cut right in the street! If you have never read "Gone With the Wind," or even if you have, I urge you to curl up under an afghan and begin immediately

We all cut people, I'm sure. We have that former co-worker whose e-mails we delete without reading, or that embarrassing relative we only see when forced. But the "Cut Direct" is done in front of people, obviously, as a punishment. That's what makes it such a severe step.

Have I ever given someone the "Cut Direct?" No, but I've had it done to me.

I chose the brave smile. Then I told the teacher.

*I have noticed that most traditional etiquette stories seem to revolve around alcohol and tea. I substitute NyQuil and Sprite and feel quite cosmopolitan.**

**Just kidding, Mom.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Social Responsibility: Etiquette 101

Continuing my series of how I think the world should be, today's topic is:


Etiquette, of course, is the art of making social interactions run smoothly. It is knowing what to say, when to say it, and when not to say anything.

As some of you know, for years I have been part of an online community that discusses etiquette. We discuss social etiquette (weddings, showers, parties, etc.); workplace etiquette, dating etiquette, and general etiquette. A good deal of our discussion centers around what "traditional" etiquette says about any given topic, and whether or not the traditional etiquette is still relevant in today's fast-paced, whack-a-doodle world.

I'll say it now: I'm not a weirdo. A lot of people who know me in real life look at me askance if I mention that I belong to an online forum that discusses etiquette. The fact that I have definite opinions about that "party game" in which shower guests write their name and full mailing address on an envelope shocks many of them. It has been quite a blow for me to learn:


Really. I didn't know that.

I didn't know there are some people who don't care how wedding invitations are addressed. I didn't know there are some people who believe Miss Manners writes a humor column. It was shocking to me when I found out most of my friends are these people.

On the other hand, I didn't know there are some people who believe a "proper" wedding must include live music, an open bar, and a full sit-down dinner. Some of these were people I "met" on the forum. It's quite a spectrum.

Some of what we discuss is quite practical. If I had to summarize, I would say it boils down to, "How do I politely deal with rude behavior?" Because, in terms of etiquette, one of the worst things one can do is return rudeness for rudeness, especially if the initial rudeness was committed out of ignorance. However, we also discuss whether or not strict, traditional etiquette really "works" for every situation. I confess I sometimes have my differences.

For example: how does one tell one's bosom companion that her 5-year-old son, 3-year-old daughter, and 7-year-old dog are not welcome at the intimate dinner party one has planned? She brings them everywhere with her, and has not taken any "hints" regarding the appropriateness of doing so. Etiquette tells us it would be rude to issue a non-invite, or "unvitation," but practicality tells us it would be far more painful to turn away said uninvited guests at the door.

The solution? According to strict etiquette, one simply stops inviting her to adult-only events at all. One does not mention such events to her at all. One day the dog will die and the kids will grow, so she can again be included in such events. I have no doubt the transition will be seamless.

My solution? I would give it one try. One sit down where I said to my very good friend, "I'm thinking of having a dinner party next week, and I'd love for you to come, but it's going to be kid- and animal- free. Would you be comfortable with that?" and go from there. If she throws a giant screaming fit, then I go with the strict etiquette answer.

Traditional etiquette doesn't always work today. For instance, did you know:

Response cards in wedding invitations are technically rude? They imply that your guests don't know the correct etiquette, which is to get out their own personal engraved stationery and hand-write their response.

Registry information in any invitation is technically rude? Including registry information where your guests can easily find it implies that you expect gifts. The correct etiquette is to pass your registry information, verbally, to several nosy aunts so guests can call them and ask. If you have no nosy aunts, ask your mother's three best friends. Isn't that just as easy?

Complimenting the appearance of someone to whom you have not been introduced is rude? I confess that this is the one where I have a personal story: one time, in a Wal-Mart parking lot, someone I had never seen before or since stopped me and told me the top I was wearing made my eyes look beautiful. I felt good for days. How rude!

Typing or printing any personal correspondence, or addresses on any outer envelope, is rude? I admit I knew this one. I read Miss Manners. So I hand-addressed all of my wedding invitations, hand-wrote all of my thank-you notes, and hand-addressed the baby announcements (in the case of Dexy, I hand-wrote those announcements). So what if I have no sensation below the second knuckle of any finger? I did the polite thing.

So I invite you all to become like me! Become obsessed with the polite way to do just about anything. It makes your life much, much more interesting.

I can hardly stand it.