Time to Put Pen to Paper!

 

The photo at right says it all. At one time, this box surely brimmed with letters, correspondence that chased its way downward through the floors of this downtown Manhattan office building before coming to rest in the lobby, ready to be sped on its way by an employee of the United States Postal Service. And today? Whitewashed. Barely legible, the words: "U.S. MAIL LETTER BOX." Painted over like a poster for a film that left the theaters many seasons ago.

When was the last time you hand-wrote a message to someone you love? If you’re like most, it’s been a long while (if ever). In our era, email has endangered eloquence; emojis have enfeebled expression. And yet, if you believe the hand-written note has outlived its usefulness, I urge you to reconsider. In a time marked by Tweets and texts, #TBTs and TTYLs, there is no better way to convey sentiments that will endure than by putting them down on paper.

With this in mind, and just in time for National Card and Letter Writing Month, I've partnered with the Hotel Hugo in New York City on a 30-day campaign to promote the penning of truly meaningful messages. After check-in, guests discover in their room a set of complimentary, custom note cards. The hotel and I are encouraging guests to think of a special person in their life, put their thoughts on paper, seal the envelope and bring it to the lobby, where the hotel will mail the correspondence for free anywhere in the world.

Though you may not be staying at the Hugo, you can still take part in the campaign. Write even one note this month and rediscover the joys of expressing yourself on paper. If you're feeling rusty, never fear. Here are my top tips for creating a keepsake that’s cherished…for all the “write reasons,” of course.

special edition Forever stamp issued by the usps to commemorate national card & letter writing month

special edition Forever stamp issued by the usps to commemorate national card & letter writing month

 1. Penmanship counts. (And so does your pen.) In fact, the two can be closely linked. Find the implement that allows you to write as neatly as possible. Too inky and you’ll get blots. Too greasy and you’ll leave smudges. With a porous card stock, a fountain pen can be very elegant, though a felt-tip pen may provide cleaner results. Skip the ballpoint entirely, and if your handwriting is just a shade above legible, consider printed- rather than cursive lettering.

 2. Blue is not the new black. Ink the color of ebony is the appropriate choice for a formal note card. Eschew the blue and whatever you do, avoid red at all costs.

 3. Be a dear. Date the card in the upper-right and start off with a salutation; invariably this will be “Dear” or “Dearest”…you’ll have more options when it comes to the complimentary close. (See below.)

4. Get your messaging down. Consider composing your note on a computer first and transcribing it to the note card second. This allows you to find the most appropriate wording without ruining precious paper in the process. You can also run a spell-check before committing, thus avoiding unsightly cross-outs. Make your message matter by being as descriptive and expressive as possible.

5. In closing. Select a complimentary close that suits your relationship with the recipient. This is also your chance to show more flourish. Some suggestions: Affectionately; Thinking of You; Love Always; Your Friend Forever; Devotedly; Gratefully Yours; With Deepest Thanks. And don’t forget to sign the card…first-name only unless the recipient won’t know you from your given name alone.

6. Stamp of individuality. Place the card in the envelope right-side up, with the front of the card facing the flap. Hand-addressing is a must—in the same ink you used for the note. Stick to a real postage stamp (as opposed to a printed label or meter imprint). Skip the ubiquitous USPS flag stamps unless the intent of your note is to be patriotic. Instead, enhance the theme of your card with a stamp appropriate to the message you’ve written. Last but not least, don’t forget to include your return address, which—if you’ve played your card right—will spur and facilitate an equally treasured reply.

 

Easter & Passover Etiquette

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Easter and Passover weekends are here. Do you have your bonnet ready? Have you baked a batch of hot-cross buns or saved a chair for Elijah? Whatever your traditions are this holiday, there are sure to arise some etiquette quandaries. To assist you with those questions, here are some scenario-saving suggestions usable this weekend and all the year through. For more of this advice, have a peek at my segment this week on the Today show with Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb.

SO IF YOU ARE HEADING TO EASTER OR PASSOVER DINNER THIS WEEKEND ... SHOULD YOU ALWAYS OFFER TO BRING DESSERT OR A SIDE ... OR IS A BOTTLE OF WINE OR FLOWERS ENOUGH?
Any time you are invited to dinner at someone’s home, you should always offer to assist the host by bringing a food dish. If the host declines, you can still bring something—just don’t make it a scene-stealer, which will detract from what the host has prepared. In the case of Passover, if the household you are visiting keeps kosher, make certain not to bring anything into the home that is not sealed and marked kosher for Passover.

In all cases, you should always bring something for the host to enjoy well after the party is over, such as a nice bottle of wine or a potted Easter lily.

AND AS THE HOST -- IS IT EVER OK TO INVITE SOMEONE OVER, AND THEN SAY, "HEY COULD YOU TAKE CARE OF THE SALAD??
A host should always have a ready answer for the question “What can I bring?” If the guest does not ask, and the host needs some help with the menu, she could ask the guest, “I’m wondering if you’d be able to bring that famous Waldorf salad of yours that everyone loves so much?” Don’t ask the guest to bring the main course or something that is out of the ordinary or out of his or her regular recipe routine.

LET'S TALK ABOUT SEATING -- DO YOU PREFER ASSIGNED SEATS WITH PLACECARDS -- OR SHOULD IT JUST BE A FREE-FOR-ALL AT THE TABLE?
Depending on the size of the gathering and how formal you want to make this party, place cards can be a nice touch. They are especially handy if you’ll be having guests who spend much of every meal arguing. This way, you can seat them as far apart as possible.

WHAT ABOUT DESSERT -- SOME PEOPLE SERVE IT IMMEDIATELY, BUT YOU MIGHT NEED A BREATHER!
Most certainly give yourself and your guests a bit of a break before dessert. This is a great time for a walk, a game (whether an outdoor sport or a board game) or—if you haven’t done it already—an egg hunt, which will allow everyone to work off the meal a bit. For anyone whose sweet tooth can’t wait, I like having a selection of jellybeans set out in colorful dishes around the family room at the beginning of the party.

THEN THERE'S CLEAN UP-- A LOT OF TIME AS THE HOSTESS, YOU'RE EAGER  TO CLEAR PLATES, GET THE DISHES GOING IN THE KITCHEN, BUT THEN YOU’RE SORT OF ABANDONING YOUR GUESTS ... WHAT DO YOU SUGGEST?
Unless you are having your meal catered, there’s not much getting around the fact that the host or hostess is going to spend a lot of time in the kitchen. And clearing the plates is an important part of preparing for the next course. But once the last course has been served, the host should take a break from the kitchen and spend any remaining time with his or her guests. Any additional cleanup can be done after the last guests have left.

AND FINALLY, AS THE NIGHT WRAPS UP ... BUT PEOPLE ARE STILL LINGERING... HOW DO YOU POLITELY INDICATE THE EVENING IS OVER??
You don’t want to rush people out, but once dessert has been served and coffee has been consumed, a line like “We have so many leftovers…what can I give you to take home?” is a nice way to suggest to your guests that they must start rustling. If they don’t take that cue, enlist the services of a sibling or other close family member to start the exodus with a line such as “I know we all have work and school tomorrow and Sarah has been cooking all day. We should head home so she can get some sleep.”

A Farewell to Facebook?

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This week, a reader wrote to me, asking:

I find people are increasingly posting what I feel are inappropriate comments and pictures. My kids are on Facebook and they do not post these kinds of things or act this way so I guess I just don't know how to handle adults and other young adults who do feel this is appropriate. I am to the point of just shutting down my Facebook. So my question is do I just ignore this behavior or do I post a notice that I have decided to shut down my Facebook or just shut it down without saying anything?

Here's what I suggested....

The decision to leave Facebook is a personal one, of course. I appreciate your frustration with inappropriate or simply annoying posts on social media. And certainly, the upside of bidding farewell to Facebook is no more swaths of time gobbled up scrolling through your news feed and the attendant serving of seemingly endless ad drivel. The unfortunate consequence of leaving Facebook, however, is a shutting down of a pipeline that also contains welcome or important news you might not hear of otherwise. For many of us--me included--Facebook is a lifeline to longtime friends and distant family members whom I don’t often--or in some cases, ever--get to see. So I recommend the following:

1) If there are particular offenders who are also good friends of yours, I’d have a private word with them, explaining in a gentle way that occasionally, you have found their posts to be a bit offensive, and you wonder whether others might be feeling the same way. Encourage them to consider carefully anything they post, knowing that once it is out in the ether, it is difficult--if not impossible--to expunge. If they ignore your advice, follow the second part of tip # 2, below.

2) If the offenders are only casual acquaintances, you might consider “hiding” their status updates. What’s nice about this option is that you don’t need to unfriend these individuals entirely; you will simply cease seeing their updates (offensive or otherwise). If you hover over the right downward arrow next to their post, a box will appear that will allow you to stop “following” this friend. Again, the “friendship” remains intact. (See photo.) Your contact will be none the wiser.

3) If the offenders are casual acquaintances and are being truly awful, the time has likely come to unfriend them entirely. No explanation needed. They are not worth your attention.


Are You a Closer Talker, Soft Talker, Loud Talker or Spitter?

You likely know someone who likes to lean in a bit too closely during conversation. Or speaks at a volume so loud it's nearly deafening...or so soft it's nearly inaudible. Last month, I joined Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie on the Today show to offer some tips. You can watch that video here. For some additional tips (and the inclusion of how to deal with a fast-talker and a spitter), read on

FOR THE CLOSE TALKER
•Backing away will only invite the close talker to tighten the gap again, so step back and then immediately fill the void with a cocktail glass or small food plate (extended outward from your own body) or by talking with your hands. You can also place a fully outstretched arm on the close-talker's elbow, keeping him or her at a distance more comfortable to you.
 
FOR THE LOUD TALKER
•A loud talker is not always aware of his or her volume, so try to nip this one in the bud by speaking more softly yourself. Very often, the loud talker will match your level. If this does not happen, it's possible that the other person has a hearing impairment and is unaware of how loudly he or she is speaking. In such instances, if this is someone you know well, point out in a caring way (in a separate, side conversation) that sometimes the individual's volume is a bit elevated, and that you're certain he or she would want to know. Very likely, the person will be grateful you took the time to mention it.
 
FOR THE SOFT TALKER
•This one is perhaps the easiest to handle….let the person know you really want to hear what is being said, but are having a hard time doing so. Blame it on your own hearing or the loudness in the room, but ask the person to speak at a higher volume, because you don't want to miss a word!
 
FOR THE FAST TALKER
•Fast talking is not always a bad thing….in New York and other cities, rapid speaking can be a sign of engagement, excitement, or sometimes, of being in a rush. But if you are having a hard time understanding a person because he or she is speaking too quickly for you to process (this is often an issue when the language being spoken is not the native tongue of one of the individuals), try speaking more slowly yourself to see if the other person matches your cadence. If modeling slower speech does not do the trick, as with the soft talker, simply ask them to slow down a bit because you don't want to miss anything. No one is going to be insulted upon hearing that you want to hang onto his or her every word.
 
FOR THE SPITTER
•This is often a consequence of fast-talking, so getting the person to slow down may help. If that does not do the trick, offer him or her a drink…getting the person to sip and swallow will often clear the mouth of excess saliva and prevent spittle. If these tips don't eliminate the problem, refer to the tips for a close talker, and stand at a safe distance so you don't walk away from the conversation all wet!

Offensive Traffic Moves....America's "Bridgegate"?

Photo by Robert Jack 啸风 Will

As motorists of New York and New Jersey continue to fume about the hours they lost while sitting in an artificially generated traffic jam, there are plenty of us who spend a good portion of our days stuck in good old-fashioned gridlock....the kind having nothing to do with political payback. In fact, according to the Texas A&M Mobility Report, the average American commuter spends 38 hours per year stuck in traffic. For residents of Washington, D.C., the number inches into the high 60s, with San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York not far behind.

Given how much time we're spending bumper-to-bumper, you'd think we'd have the hang of it by now. But the fact is, there's plenty of road rage on our nation's highways, and bad driving etiquette shares much of the blame. If there's not a whole lot that can be done about the delays themselves, there certainly is much that can be done about the rude behavior. Here, then, are my top five picks for the worst-behaved drivers you'll spot in a traffic jam. If you recognize yourself on this list, take a good look in the rear view mirror and make that change.

1) The Non-Signalers: Despite the fact that a blinker takes a mere millisecond to activate and even turns itself off, there are far too many drivers who refuse to signal their intentions on the road. Listen up you folks: Just because you know where you're headed doesn't mean everyone else around you is aware.

2) The Shoulder Cruisers: Are you surprised that I give you the cold shoulder for riding at highway speed past dead-stopped traffic? By using the lane reserved strictly for emergencies, you're running the risk of creating a new emergency. You're also acting on an instinct that crossed the mind of every single one of us. Except we chose to do the adult thing and wait patiently.

3) The Exit Faker: Close cousin to the Shoulder Cruiser, the Exit Faker hops into the "exit only" lane, blithely pretends he's leaving the highway, and then, at the last possible moment, cuts back into stopped traffic. I'm giving you a time-out....for double the minutes you've just saved by cutting off everyone behind you.

4) The Median Maneuverer: Closely eyeing the "For Official Use Only" break in the highway's concrete divider, this traffic offender makes a quick switch into the express lanes from the local ones (or vice versa). Even worse, and exponentially more dangerous, is the driver who uses the divider gap as an invitation to make a U-turn. Word to the wise: don't try to beat the system or I might have to make a citizen's arrest.

5) The Bumper Hugger: Bad enough that we're all sitting here feeling claustrophobic. You've made the person in front of you feel even more closed in thanks to your refusal to allow more than a millimeter of space between his car and yours. Give us some breathing room. You're not getting to your destination any faster by riding his bumper.

So, motorists, please....whether you're sitting on the 101 in Hollywood, 1-30 between Dallas and Fort Worth or, indeed, the George Washington Bridge, please do your best not to make the experience worse with bad manners evocative of a Chris Christie staffer. No one but no one likes a traffic bully.